By BosNewsLife Middle East Service and BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A frail Iranian pastor detained during a Christmas celebration in his Tehran home and a fellow Christian remained behind bars Monday, February 2, amid a wider crackdown on evangelical believers, Christians said.
Victor Bet-Tamarz, an Assyrian Pentecostal church leader, was among those taken into custody on December 26 by security officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Court, according to several church sources.
Police was seen filming the arrests, forcing each Christian to state their identity,
explain why they were there and why they thought they were being detained.
Authorities reportedly separated men from women and proceeded to search them, confiscating Bibles, mobile phones and identification papers. Police also searched Pastor Victor’s home, seizing his computer, mobile phones and books, Christians said.
Eventually only Bet-Tamarz, 60, and one other man were kept in custody, despite concerns over the pastor’s health, BosNewsLife learned. The identity of the other inmate was not immediately released.
Both men are believed to be held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
The pastor apparently suffers from diabetes and family members said they are concerned about his health and are “unsure” on what charges, if any, he has been held.
In a brief phone call from prison to his family, the pastor was reportedly forced to speak Farsi, instead of using his native language, to enable guards to monitor him.
It came as another setback for the pastor, who church sources said “faithfully ministered in Iranian Pentecostal churches for many years”, most recently in Tehran, as general superintendent in Shahr-Ara Pentecostal Church.
As an ancient community of modern-day Iran, Assyrian Christians had been permitted to
worship in their own language, which is a form of Aramaic, a language that Jesus is believed to have spoken.
Yet Pastor Victor’s congregation in Tehran has remained closed since 2009 after he reportedly refused to meet government demands to ban non-Assyrians from attending and to stop holding services in Farsi, the language of Iran’s Muslim majority.
Though an Assyrian parliamentarian and the Council for Assyrian Churches in Iran demoted him, the pastor continued his activities outside ofﬁcial churches, Christians said.
Iranian authorities have been cracking down on several evangelical churches and house church movements amid concerns about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic country.