By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Two of the seven Christians from the evangelical Church of Iran movement who were jailed following last month’s raid on a house church have been released after being forced to post bail of tens of thousands of dollars, a church official confirmed late Friday, November 2.
“Roxana Furughi was freed Thursday, November 1, when she paid $25,000,” said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the ‘Church of Iran’. Her release came after fellow believer Bijan Haghighi was released October 25 after posting his bail of a similar amount, Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
“It’s a huge amount in Iran where average monthly wages are up to $300 or less. Their families had to raise the money by putting properties such as a house as security,” the church official explained.
The two released believers were among those detained October 12 when security forces raided a worship service in a Church of Iran affiliated house church in the southwestern city of Shiraz, Iranian Christians said.
Another Church of Iran member, Afsar Bahmani, was freed earlier last month following a one-day detention over her involvement in house church meetings,
according to the Church of Iran.
Others still behind bars include Mohammad Roghangir, known locally as ‘Brother Vahid’, who led the house church meeting attended by some 15 people. He is held with devoted believers Suroush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Mehdi Ameruni and Shahin Lahooti, Khandjani said.
“I hope that they will be released also as they have committed no action against the country,” he added. “We have no political activities as a church, though members can have their own political views as citizens.”
It was not immediately clear on what charges they are being held, but Khandjani said the usual accusations “action against the order” or “action against national security” will be high on the list.
“In Iran, they first arrest Christians and after that, they look for charges,” explained Khandjani, who was himself briefly detained for his involvement in a church.
He spoke just days after news emerged that elsewhere in the country an evangelical pastor, his wife and two other church workers were sentenced to one year imprisonment each because they were involved in evangelism and converted from Islam to Christianity.
The pastor of the Assemblies of God (AOG) church in Ahwaz city, Farhad Sabokrouh, his wife Shahnaz Jeizan and defendants Naser Zamen Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani were reportedly convicted October 15 for “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, and propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting Evangelical Christianity”, Christian trial observers told BosNewsLife.
Khandjani said that besides these latest cases at least scores of Christians remain behind bars across Iran amid reports that as many as 400 Christians of different church backgrounds were detained in recent weeks.
He expressed concerns about the future of the targeted Christians, many of whom belong to what are known as ‘house churches’. “All of those detained are of an Islamic background, raising additional concerns they will be tortured and otherwise pressured to commit to crimes they did not commit,” Khandjani stressed.
Despite the reported crackdown, there may be as many as 100,000 evangelical Christians in the strict Islamic nation, according to conservative church estimates, though some groups claim the number is several times higher and continues to grow.
Iranian officials have defended the alleged harsh treatment of Christians worshiping in private homes. State media have called house churches “a network of criminals” that “exploit vulnerable people”, charges Christians strongly deny.