By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Several Iranian Christians remained behind bars Tuesday, February 28, including an elderly frail woman, after security forces launched a “systematic series of arrests in different parts of Iran” to “counter the growth of Christianity and the house church movement”Iranian Christians said.
Mohabat News, a news agency of Iranian Christians and rights activists, said the situation was especially serious in the southern city of Esfahan where Iranian authorities allegedly detained Christians at home or in their working place, since February 22.
In a statement sent to BosNewsLife, the agency said 78-year-old Giti Hakimpour, a minister of St. Luke’s Church of Esfahan, was “arrested in her flat” last Wednesday, February 22, despite being in poor health.
It quoted eyewitnesses as saying that several police and private cars parked below her flat were involved in the operation. Elsewhere that day another Christian, identified as church leader Hekmat Salimi of St. Paul Church, was detained at his home in Fooladshar “without providing a reason.” His whereabouts were not known Tuesday, February 28.
Another Christian convert and house church member, Majid Enayat, was detained at his working place February 22, shortly after the arrests of “numerous Christians” in Esfahan, Mohabat News reported.
Iranian Christians said authorities went to his house, searched it and seized some of his personal belongings. “Majid Enayat had just married in the latter part of last summer [but] officers even took the movies of his wedding ceremony with them,” Mohabat News said.
There is concern among Iranian Christians that security authorities will use those movies to identify the couple’s Christian friends and other contacts.
Majid’s wife was also summoned for interrogation and asked to hand over personal items to Iran’s intelligence services, Christians said.
“This implies that they are planning to keep him in jail for a long time. Majid has been denied any contacts or visits from his wife or family since his arrest,” Mohabat News reported.
He was reportedly also briefly detained in 2009 when returning from Turkey. There was no information about his exact whereabouts and health condition, but Iranian Christians said they believe he is a special prison ward for religious and “security” prisoners of Dastgerd prison in Esfahan.
In recent weeks Christians are also known to have been detained individually or in groups in the areas of Ahwaz, Shiraz and the capital Tehran. “As a result the number of detainees is growing day by day,” Mohabat News added.
Among others detained is Farshid Fathi, a Christian convert, who was detained over a year ago during a raid by security authorities in Tehran.
A trial was held earlier this month, February 5, at the Revolutionary Court based in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, but a verdict is only expected within three months, his lawyer and trial observers said.
Iranian Christians said the judicial wrangling is part of efforts to harm the prisoner. Just before New Year, authorities reportedly told his family he could be temporarily released on a bail of some $200,000 in local currency.
Though the family apparently managed to come up with the money, authorities eventually prevented him from leaving.
The 33-year-old Farshid Fathi, a father of two children, has been held in solitary confinement for some periods, Christians said.
Fathi was subjected to what his supporters called “severe interrogations by Intelligence Ministry’s agents”who asked him with whom he had shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with and what foreign contacts he had.
The detainees are often former Muslims who later turned to Christianity. Youcef Nadarkhani, a well-known evangelical pastor of the growing Church if Iran, has refused to recant his faith and return to Islam.
A court sentenced him to death, despite mounting international pressure to release him and other Christians.
Iran’s Islamic government has denied wrongdoing saying those detained violate the laws of the land. Nadarkhani has also been described by officials as “a Zionist” and “criminal” among other allegations.