By Worthy News Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)– Christians in Iran are anticipating a difficult Christmas after security forces reportedly raided a worship gathering and detained two of the group's leaders.
The Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), which has close ties to Christians in Iran, said police and undercover officers broke up the pre-Christmas meeting of 70 “new believers” December 17 in Karaj, Iran.
The two detained leaders of the group, identified as Kambiz Saghaee and Ali Keshvar-Doostare, are held at an unknown location, Chrisians said. Their family have reportedly not be able to contact them, and Christian rights investigators said they are "deeply concerned for their well-being."
"All present at the gathering were photographed. They were alerted that formal interrogations will ensue and to comply when summoned before legal prosecutors," said rights group International Christian Concern (ICC), which has closely monitored the situation. Bibles, Christian books and other materials were also confiscated by security officers, according to Iranian Christians.
Rights investigators suggested that the raid is only one of many that have occurred before the holidays as part of a crackdown on especially Christians with a Muslim background. There has been concern among authorities about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.
"This move by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran clearly shows that Farsi-speaking Christians in Iran are deprived of their right to celebrate Christmas and welcome the Christian New Year," FCNN added.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay said the Iranian government “severely restricts religious freedom. " He said the incident demonstrates "Iran’s ongoing trend of executing severe tactics of brutality toward Christians and other religious minorities." Iran, he said, "has adopted the strategy of eliminating any potential challenge to its sovereignty and to Islam.”
Christianity’s growth is seen as a threat to the bower base of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leadership, according to analysts.
“ICC strongly condemns Iran’s brutality and requests the immediate release of Kambiz Saghaee and Ali Keshvar-Doost, that they may celebrate Christmas this year with family, and not from a prison chamber,” Clai added. There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities.