By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Seven Christians from Iran’s largest evangelical house church movement were detained while attending a prayer service in a home late Friday, October 12, religious rights activists told BosNewsLife.
The Church of Iran members Mohammad (Vahid) Roghangir, Suroush Saraie, Roxana Forughi, Eskandar Rezaie, Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni and Shahin Lahooti were taken from a house in the city of Shiraz in Fars Province, explained advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
They were reportedly held in what CSW called a “notorious detention center” of Iran’s feared Intelligence Ministry, known as Plaque 100.
Christians said the seven believers were detained at around 6 pm local time in the middle of a prayer meeting. Older people who attended the prayer gathering were allegedly threatened, but not taken into custody.
The Church of Iran has made world headlines after one of its pastors, Youcef Nadarkhani, was sentenced to death before being released last month.
The latest detentions are part of a marked upsurge in a campaign of “harassment of Christians of all denominations”, with reports of a significant increase in arrests during recent weeks, CSW said.
On Thursday, October 11, seven received suspended five year sentences for “action against the national security,” after they were already jailed in Rasht six years ago, according to trial observers.
It came shortly after five Christian converts detained in Adel-Abad prison eight months ago following a raid on a house church in Shiraz were told they will face trial Monday, October 15, Iranian Christians said.
Since their arrests, the five have reportedly been confined in cells housing dangerous criminals and are charged with “creating illegal groups”, “participating in a house church service”, “propagation against the Islamic regime” and “defaming Islamic holy figures through Christian evangelizing”.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group “is deeply concerned” about the “increase in the harassment of Iranian Christians.”
He said there is especially concern about the nature of the charges that are currently being leveled against Christians and other religious minorities.
“There appears to be an increasing tendency by the Iranian authorities to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state. In reality, people are being harassed merely on account of their faith,” he said.
“The ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha’is and other religious minorities contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.”
By arresting Christians, “who have peaceably gathered to pray or worship, Iran is violating their right to manifest their religious belief,” Thomas added.
He said CSW has urged Iran to end the reported harassment and release everyone held for their faith.
Iran has repeatedly denied wrongdoing saying those detained are criminals and that it defends Islamic values.