By BosNewsLife News Center
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife) — Several members of Iran's rapidly expanding underground church remained behind bars Sunday, May 25, as part of a police crackdown on Muslim converts to Christianity, several Christian sources said.
Open Doors USA, a group supporting Christians who it says are persecuted for their faith, said the latest arrests began in the early morning hours of May 11 when two couples were taken into custody while boarding their flights at the Shiraz International Airport. All were allegedly subjected to hours of interrogation about their faith and house church activities.
"There's a crackdown going on right now against evangelical Muslim-background believers, or converts from Islam to Christianity in the area of Shiraz. We have reports from Southern Iran that 12 Christian converts have been arrested, and [at least] four are still imprisoned," said Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
Computers, Compact Disks and Christian books have also been confiscated during raids on Christian homes, he said. Among those initially detained were reportedly Homayon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 48, and his wife Fariba Nazemiyan Pur, 40; Amir Hussein Bab Anari, 25, and his wife Fatemeh Shenasa, 25. The two wives were released the same day, Anari on May 14, but Gholamzadeh remained jailed Sunday, May 25, several news reports said.
Two hours after the May 11 detentions police allegedly invaded the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, arresting him and his three adult children, Fatemah, 28, Muhammed Ali, 27, and Mojtaba, 21.
All the family's books, CDs, computers and printers were hauled off as well, Open Doors USA and local Christians said. Hussein, his daughter and one son were released later the same day, but son Mojtaba remains in prison.
Two days later, local police reportedly also picked up two other ex-Muslims involved in a separate house church in Shiraz as the Christian converts were talking together in a city park. Both men, Mahmood Matin and a second man identified only as Arash, are still jailed, Christians said.
The latest arrests followed detentions last month in the northern city of Amol, in Mazandaran province near the Caspian Sea, where two converts to Christianity–one a pregnant woman– were detained. There was no news of their whereabouts Sunday, May 25.
Moeller said the crackdown is part of harassment by authorities who, he said, “are recognizing that there's a mushrooming house church movement going on in Iran. (It's) doubling in size of the indigenous house church movement there in Iran every six months. So the rate of growth is actually stunning."
Converts from Islam are routinely subjected to both physical and psychological mistreatment while being held for days or weeks, usually in solitary confinement, rights groups say. Huge bail amounts are demanded for their release, under the threat of further detention or formal criminal prosecution if caught worshipping or spreading their faith, according to Christians.
The large number of Iranians embracing Christianity has been attributed in part to a number of radio stations and satellite television channels launched in the past five years broadcasting Christian programs in Farsi into the country 24 hours a day, Christian observers said.
Moeller linked church growth also to “disillusionment with conservative clerics and harsh political hatred,” which he said “creates a tremendous opportunity for the love of Jesus Christ to make inroads into people's lives. People are searching for real spiritual answers, and they are finding it in Jesus Christ."
In January of this year, the Iranian parliament reportedly drafted a proposed criminal code that would make the death penalty mandatory for "apostates" who leave Islam for another religion. Under the existing law, apostasy is one of several "crimes" which can be punished with execution, although Islamic court judges are not required to hand down a death sentence, experts said.
The last Iranian Christian convert from Islam formally charged with apostasy was acquitted in May 2005. But Hamid Pourmand served 22 months of a three-year prison sentence on fabricated charges before he was finally released under virtual house arrest in July 2006.
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