Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Iranian authorities have continued to demonstrate their disregard for basic religious freedom as they arrested 14 Iranian Christians after a raid on a house church gathering on November 1. The detentions took place in Varamin and Tehran, many of the members had been previously part of the Emmanuel Protestant Church in Tehran, which was closed in 2012.
The raid took place during the Sunday service, Ramin Rad, co-founder of Voice of Christians of Iran, told ICC. Thirteen of those in attendance were taken into custody by agents of Iran’s Intelligence Service and their current location is unknown. Another member of the church was arrested a few hours later at their home in Tehran.
The names of those arrested at the house church meeting are: Zari Shah Khasti (Poorkaveh), Simmin, Bahram, Amin, Leyla, Zahra, Mehdi and Farzaneh, Shayan, Sara, Nazanin, Elnaz and Mohammad Shah Khasti, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
The human rights situation in Iran has continued to be abysmal, with Christian converts and other religious minorities often being the prime targets of the violations. The growth of house churches in Iran has led to increased repression by the regime against evangelicals and house churches.
Police officials often raid homes that are hosting church meetings or Bible studies and arrest multiple members on suspicion of acting against the regime. Since 2010 police officials arbitrarily arrested more than 500 Christians throughout Iran. As of February 2015, approximately 90 Christians were imprisoned, detained or pending trial for their religious beliefs and activities.
In addition, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who has been in prison for more than 30 months, was forced to return to Evin prison on October 31.This brought an abrupt end to a medical leave that was allowing her to seek treatment for complications from a previous heart surgery and the ill effects of her time in prison. She was charged with converting to Christianity and being an active member of a church, among other charges. She was sentenced to four years in prison.
Also in Iran, Suroush Saraie, who was arrested in 2014 and taken to prison in Shiraz, Iran was released on November 10. Saraie was sentenced to serve two and a half years, but at present has been released and will not be required to serve the remaining 14 months of his prison sentence.
All of these situations come against the backdrop of a planned trip by President Hassan Rouhani to Italy which will include a meeting with the Pope. Iran’s human rights and religious freedom record have not improved under President Rouhani, but rather, Iran continues to regularly imprison and harass those who choose to follow Christianity.
ICC Regional Manager Todd Daniels said, “We are grateful to hear the news of the release of Suroush Saraie and are glad he has reunited with his family, even while still bearing the scars of this time in prison. Over and over again, Iran has demonstrated that they do not uphold the fundamental aspect of religious freedom to be able to meet together with others who share your beliefs. For too long, the Iranian regime has treated such meetings as a threat to national security. The judicial system should uphold the commitments made by the Iranian government both in its constitution and in International Agreements to provide religious freedom for its citizens and should end the prosecution and unjust imprisonment of Christians for nothing more than practicing their religious beliefs. We urge the Iranian officials to immediately release these fourteen individuals who were gathered simply to worship and pray according to their faith. We also urge for the full release of Pastor Benham Irani, Saeed Abedini, Maryam Naghash Zargaran and the dozens more who are imprisoned unjustly.