By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran has released three Christians who were detained last year during Christian gatherings, but concerns remain over the whereabouts of a Dutch-Iranian believer, rights activists confirmed Friday, May 6.
Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that Sonia Keshish Avanessian, Arash Kermanjani and his wife Arezo Teimouri were freed from Hamadan prison “after having being held for nearly eight months without charge.”
A fourth member of the group, Avanessian’s husband Vahik Abrahamian, who also has Dutch citizenship “remains imprisoned and his condition is unknown,” CSW said.
The four Christians were arrested along with eight others during a Christian meetings at the town of Vahik and in Abrahamian´s home. Several political parties in the Netherlands’ parliament asked the Dutch government to pressure Iran to free the Christian.
Officials say that´s difficult as Iran’s government doesn´t recognize Dutch citizenship of native Iranians. Those released were pressured to pay the equivalent of $190,000 each “possibly because the group was known to have links to international Christian organizations,” CSW added. “But when it became clear that no such payment would be forthcoming, three were released, but were neither bailed nor acquitted. No reason has been given for Vahik Abrahamian’s continued imprisonment.”
They were reportedly held in solitary confinement in an unknown location for 40 days before being transferred to Hamadan Public Prison, some 340 kilometers west of Tehran.
During their imprisonment, Iran´s state-run television network accused them to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, and described as “Zionist Christians”, apparently because of evangelism activities, according to rights investigators. Separately, Iranian Christians still face prosecution elsewhere in the country.
CHURCH OF IRAN
Among them are also eleven members of the Church of Iran, one of the largest house church movements in the country. CSW said they were suddenly brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in the Iranian city of Bandar-Anzali on Sunday May 1.
The charges against the group relate to their involvement in a house church meeting, and to taking communion wine, several Christians said earlier.
During what was described as a very brief hearing, the Christians’ lawyer, Seyyed Mohammed-Ali Dadkhah, reportedly said that the meeting was a religious gathering, that there had been no violation of Muslim law or the constitution, and told the court that rights of Christians and minorities are protected in the constitution. The group was told to expect an answer from the court within ten days, CSW said.
These latest developments are part of a wider crackdown on devoted Christians in Iran, a strict Islamic nation where Christianity has been spreading among Muslims, rights activists say. There was no immediate comment from Iran’s government, but authorities have previously defended the criticized legal system in the country, as a way to “protect Islamic values.”