By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Embattled Iranian Christians urged prayers Tuesday, February 14, as Iranian security forces reportedly launched a crackdown on devoted ‘official’ churches and house congregations operating outside government control.
Among those detained in the latest operation is Maasis Mosesian, an elder of the Assemblies of God Church in the capital Tehran, said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), which closely follows the situation.
Mosesian was “arrested at his workplace” February 8 and “is understood to be detained in Gohardasht, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of Tehran,” MEC told BosNewsLife in a statement. No reasons were given for the reported detention of Maasis, who is Armenian and married with two children.
Several other members of the Assemblies of God denomination remain behind bars, following Christmas raids, BosNewsLife learned.
At least one of them, a Christian identified as Pastor Rouhollah Ghobeyti, is pressured to “recant his faith in Christ” a self-professed member of the Ahvaz Assemblies of God Church told BosNewsLife.
“I have been informed about one of our brothers, Rouhollah Ghobeyti, [is] kept in Karoon jail” since his arrest around Christmas 2011, said the Christian, who only identified himself as Chris, amid security concerns. He said news “had been ignored” about the pastor, who is of the associated Dezfull Assemblies of
BosNewsLife was not immediately able to receive confirmation about the status of the pastor, but MEC said at least three Assemblies of God members are known to be behind bars in Iran. MEC said that two other churches in Tehran, the Emmanuel Protestant Church and St Peter Evangelical Church, have been ordered to cease holding Farsi language services on Fridays.
“The pastors were given notification of this order last week by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and announced the order to their congregations on Friday” February 10.
“This decision means that there are now no Farsi language services on Fridays in any officially registered church in Tehran,” MEC added. Earlier, in October 2009, the Assemblies of God Church was already ordered by authorities to halt Friday services, Christians said.
As Friday is the main weekend day in Iran, it is difficult for church members to attend services on other days, MEC said.
The group added that some members of the Emmanuel and St Peter churches have also lost their jobs after authorities placed pressure on their employers.
“These churches are among the small number of officially registered churches that principally serve the Armenian and Assyrian communities of Iran. Most activities are conducted in the Armenian and Assyrian languages. The order to stop Farsi services is consistent with the authorities’ policy of restricting Christian activities to these traditional communities,” the group claimed.
House churches, which have no official recognition and often serve believers from Muslim backgrounds, also continue to be under great pressure, Iranian Christians said.
Mohabat News, a news agency of Iranian Christians and rights activists, said 10 former Muslims-turned-Christians were detained in a raid on a house church in the city of Shiraz on February 8.
Iranian officials have so far declined to reveal their wherabouts.
MEC said Iranian Christians have urged fellow believers around the world to pray that “Maasis will know the peace and presence of Jesus, and be released soon” along with “other believers detained for their faith in Jesus” and for church leaders “so they will be guided in how to respond.”
Iran Christians were also praying that they can resume Farsi-language services on Fridays and that everyone can worship there, MEC said.
Additionally they pray that “those who lost their jobs will find employment” that “all officials involved will love mercy, act justly [and] learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.”
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing and say they are defending Islamic values.