By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in northern Iran have detained a pastor and two other members of the Church of Iran, one of the country’s largest house church movements, fellow Christians said Tuesday, July 8.
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Mohammad Roghangir and Suroush Saraie were arrested July 5 by security forces at the pastor’s home in the city of Bandar-Anzali, well-informed sources said.
Their detention comes amid an ongoing government campaign to halt the spread of Christianity in the Islamic country. Especially converts from Islam, many of whom visit the Church of Iran, have been targeted, BosNewsLife learned.
Security forces reportedly confiscated Haghnejad’s belongings, including his Bible, and several other books.
It was the latest setback for Pastor Matthias, who was jailed for his faith on three other occasions between 2006 and 2011, Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife.
Mohammad Roghangir and Suroush Saraie were part of a group of seven Christians who were initially detained in October 2012, when security forces raided a prayer meeting.
The group was reportedly sentenced in July last year after being found guilty of “action against the national security” and “propaganda against the order of the system.”
Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years imprisonment, while Suroush Saraie received two and half years.
Both were eventually temporarily released on bail in March, 2013 after more than five months in prison, according to Iranian Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
Activists said it is thought the recent arrests of the Christians are related to their previous sentences, but Iranian officials have not yet confirmed the charges.
Details of their whereabouts remained unclear Tuesday, July 8.
The detention comes amid concern about Pastor Behnam Irani, another Church of Iran pastor, who is serving his six-year sentence in the city of Karaj, 20 kilometers (12.5 kilometers) northwest of the Iranian capital Tehran.
Officers of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (VEVAK) reportedly
attacked the pastor on June 7 after he was charged with communicating with media and he objected to “irregular summons” from a judge.
Held on charges of “action against the state” and “action against the order”, the pastor has been suffering from stomach problems and other ailments, linked to alleged mistreatment in prison.
A prominent rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani defending dissidents also suffers health problems, activists said. He was reportedly examined for hypertension and heart complications on July 6. Authorities returned him to his prison ward against the advice of physicians, Christians said.
Soltani was detained in September 2011 for “being awarded the  Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviews with media about his clients’ cases,” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a major advocacy group.
In January 2012, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, exile and a 20-year ban on practising law. The sentence was later reduced to 13 years by an appeals court.
Christians and activists have said they are disappointed that Iranian President Rouhani has not introduced promised reforms, including defending rights of Christians and other minorities.
“There is a disconnect between the words of President Rouhani and the actions taken by other branches of the government in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Iranian officials have made clear they want to upheld Islamic traditions of the country and prevent “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam. Despite the crackdown, church groups believe there are thousands of evangelical Christians in the country. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)