By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Three members of Iran’s main evangelical house church movement faced painful whips for drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper as early as Saturday, October 19, while two other evangelicals were discovered in a Tehran prison, nearly two months after they disappeared, activists and local Christians told BosNewsLife.
“One of our Iranian sources just informed us that Behzad Taalipasand , Mohammadreza Omidi and Danial of the Church of Iran [movement] in [the northern city] of Rasht were sentenced by the Revolutionary Court,” said Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries group, who assists them with advocacy.
They will receive “80 whips for drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper,” he told BosNewsLife. Drinking alcohol is banned in the strict Islamic nation. DeMars said he had asked Christians to keep “these brothers in prayer” as “this is obviously a terrible crime that is being committed against them by the Iranian regime.”
DeMars recalled that the “apostles and evangelists faced these same types of persecutions.”
He said his group had urged Christians to “ask God to preserve them and to prove himself through this great difficulty” and to “pray for their families and ministry as well.”
News of the upcoming sentence came while Iranian Christians confirmed that two Christian residents from Tehran, Ebrahim Firouzi and Sevada Aghasar, were secretly transferred to separate solitary cells for interrogation in the city’s notorious Evin prison after their “arbitrary arrest” for Christian activities on August 21.
Iranian security authorities reportedly detained the two Christian men in the office of one of their friends in Karaj city. Another Christian, Masoud Mirzaei, was also arrested with them, Iranian Christians said, though his situation was not immediately clarified Saturday, October 19.
Mohabat News, an Iranian news agency of local Christians and activists, said reports indicate that Firouzi and Aghasar are held in ward 209 of Evin prison “with no permission to have any sort of contact with one another.”
Their whereabouts were unknown for weeks till they were allowed to phone their families who could visit them, Christians said.
Iranian Christians have linked their detention to involvement in evangelism and other Christian activities.
‘SPYING FOR ISRAEL’
Authorities accused Firouzi, 28, “of spying for [Israel’s intelligence agency] Mossad”, Mohabat News explained.
They also “asked him what Christian ministry was supporting him so that he was able to purchase a new laptop computer and also financially help his imprisoned Christian friend, Mostafa Bordbar, to hire a lawyer,” the agency added.
Security forces earlier confiscated several personal belongings, including his computer, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Firouzi was already sentenced to one year imprisonment and two years exile to the remote town of Sarbaz in Sistan-and-Baluchestan province for allegedly “propagating against the Islamic regime, starting and directing an evangelism group, contact with opponents of the Islamic Revolution and anti-Islamic regime networks abroad, and creating a Christian website”.
The young man’s latest detention came while he was still to report to prison for serving his one year sentence, Christians said.
His fellow prisoner, Sevada Aghasar, is an Iranian-Armenian Christian resident of Tehran, who was granted “permission to have a brief behind-glass visit with his family on September 26,” Mohabat News reported.
Though Iranian judicial authorities have not yet officially announced charges against the Christian men, “it appears that their arrest is related to their activities on the social media website, Facebook, and their contact with a few Farsi-speaking Christians,” the agency said.
The reported detentions come despite pledges by recently elected President Hassan Rouhani to improve the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, including devoted Christians.
“No one should be denied his or her legal rights merely for being Turk, Baluch, Arab, Christian, or Jew,” said Ali Younesi, a former Iranian minister of intelligence and President Rouhani’s senior adviser on religious and ethnic minorities.
Additionally, “no Christian or Jew should be held back from taking on political, social or scientific roles,” the official was quoted as saying in Iranian media.
“There should not be any religious or ethnic based discrimination,” he added in remarks that appeared aimed at Western critics.
Yet, reality remains different for many Christians, including those facing mistreatment, rights official DeMars told BosNewsLife.
“At times like these people often ask: ‘Why don’t they just leave the country?’ [However] they don’t want to deny the Lord with their behavior and they want to be a good example to the people,” he stressed.
“There are times that some people will flee the country and other times that they will not. It is dependent on what they feel led of the Lord to do.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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