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By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– There was concern Tuesday, March 29, over the whereabouts of three house church members in Iran who were detained after security forces raided a worship service, local Christians said.
Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, which has close contacts with the house church, told BosNewsLife that 10 people were detained during the March 17 raid in the western city Kermanshah, nearly 600 kilometers (375 miles) from Iran’s capital Tehran.
Seven believers were later released but Meghdad Babakarami and a couple, Nahid Shirazi and Masoud Delijani, remained detained, Christians said. “There is no report regarding their whereabouts and well-being,” the agency added.
The seven Iranian Christians were reportedly freed March 18 after being forced to sign a paper to never participate in house church events again.
Judicial authorities refused to tell families of those still detained where the Christians are held, Mohabat News said.
Iranian officials reportedly claimed they had no information “regarding these individuals”.
The reported raid was a set-back for Christian converts who gathered for praise and worship ahead of Iran’s New Year.
Iranian Christians said agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry used “extremely excessive force to arrest them” and also confiscated Christian paintings, Bibles, DVDs, a computer case and identity documents. They often speak on condition of anonimity amid security concerns for themselves or their families.
Critics view the reported raid as part of an Iranian government effort to halt the spread of Christianity among Muslims in this predominantly Islamic nation.
Iranian Christians also expressed fresh worries about the elderly Pastor Wilson Issavi, who was detained by government security agents in the city of Kermanshah in February last year.
He was released on bail after 54 days but is currently waiting to be summoned by a Revolutionary Court on charges that rights activists have linked to his Christian activities.
Issavi’s Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Kermanshah is among several Iranian churches closed by authorities for allegedly “proselytizing”, or converting, Farsi-speaking Iranians, according to Iranian Christians.
There is also international concern about other detained Iranian Christians, including five believers who rights activists say are charged with blasphemy that carry the death penalty.
CHURCH OF IRAN
Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad — all members of the evangelical oriented Church of Iran denomination — are expected to face a blasphemy trial next month, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
They already serve one-year imprisonment on what supporters call “trumped up” charges of “crimes against the Islamic Order”.
Fellow church members regard the sentence as government punishment for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Another Christian, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani of a large congregation in the city of Rasht, was already sentenced to death following his arrest in late 2009 on charges of “apostasy, ” or abandoning Islam. An appeal hearing is expected within two months.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies wrongdoing and his government says harsh sentences, including executions of political opponents and Christians, are part of defending Iran’s Islamic values.(With editing and reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).