By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– At least over 30 Christians who were recently detained remained behind bars in Iran Tuesday, February 22, but there were reports that scores of other believers were released after being held by security forces in several parts of the strict Islamic nation.
In one of the latest known incidents, some 45 Christians were “temporarily detained” overnight on February 13 by the Iranian authorities in various towns and cities, including at least five people who were held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Christians rights investigators said.
Among those held was “a woman detained in Mashad and two men were arrested in Ahwaz, and other men in the areas of Karaj, Robat Karim and Dezful. One man and his pregnant wife were released after being informed that they must return for questioning once their child is born,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely monitors the situation.
CSW said it was encouraged that several Christians who were detained in a wave of arrests that began December 26, last year have been released on bail. “Those released [also] include six who were held in Tehran and four who were held in Isfahan, including Assemblies of God pastor Leonard Keshishian.”
Additionally, on February 15 Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, detained in Shiraz since June 2010 was released on bail along with four other Christians from Muslim backgrounds after a court failed to reach a verdict, Iranian Christians said. The pastor, who faces several charges including for blasphemy and crimes against the Islamic Order, now awaits a further hearing, which is expected to take place in April, Iranian Christians said.
Yet, news of the release was overshadowed by concerns over other detainees and uncertainty surrounding an appeal against a death sentence for apostasy, or abandoning Islam, by Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.
He was arrested in October 2009 and received written confirmation of this sentence in November 2010.
CSW also cautioned that “More than 30 Christians remain in prison in various cities across Iran.” The group noted however that even released believers will need time to overcome the physical and emotional impact of their imprisonment. “Some of the Christians have reported that whilst detained they were kept in solitary confinement for lengthy periods and were subjected to harsh interrogation.”
CSW, “deplores the systematic targeting of religious minorities by the Iranian government,” the group’s National Director Stuart Windsor told BosNewsLife. “As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is legally obligated to uphold international standards of religious freedom for all its citizens.”
Rights activists say the wave of arrests and temporary detentions appear to be part of the government’s alleged wider crackdown on minority Christians and other non-Muslim religious groups.
“Similar tactics have been deployed against Iran’s Baha’i community. Concern is mounting for seven Baha’i leaders detained since early 2008 after it was revealed that two of them, Mrs Fariba Kamalabadi and Mrs Mahvash Sabet, have been transferred to the brutal ‘Section 200’ of Gohardasht prison on 12 February,” CSW added.
The Baha’i International Community said Fariba Kamalabadi has been physically threatened by inmates. The five male Baha’i leaders were transferred in late January to Section 4 of the prison, which is more crowded and where they are now said to suffer severe physical abuse.
Iranian authorities have in general denied wrongdoing, saying they are upholding the laws of the Islamic nation. (With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)