By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A frail Iranian pastor has been offered “conditional release” from prison, but he faces an uncertain future in Iran, BosNewsLife learned.
Victor Bet-Tamarz, an Assyrian Pentecostal church leader, thanked Christians “for prayers” after he was freed from Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison March 1.
However his family was reportedly forced to submit “title deeds”, a legal document proving
his right to property, as they were unable to meet the bail amount set by Iranian authorities.
It remains unclear whether authorities will force the pastor and family members to sell a home or other properties to meet a possible high bail in exchange for his release.
Bet-Tamarz was among several evangelical Christians detained on December 26 by security officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Court for worship and related activities.
Police was seen filming the arrests, forcing each Christian to state their identity, explain why they were gathering and why they thought they were being detained.
Authorities reportedly separated men from women and proceeded to search them, confiscating Bibles, mobile phones and identification papers, BosNewsLife reported at the time.
Security forces also searched the pastor’s home, seizing his computer, mobile phones and books, Christians said. Eventually only Bet-Tamarz was jailed with two other Christians of his church.
The two believers held with him, identified only as Amin and Kaviyan, were freed on bail more than a month ago, Christians said.
Pastor Bet-Tamarz, who is in his 60s, said in published remarks that he “thanks those who have been praying” for him. He added that “it was a great source of encouragement to know of this support.”
Iranian Christians said however they remain concern over his health, including breathing difficulties weight loss and a tooth infection, apparently made worse by harsh prison treatment.
Security officials were seen keeping his home under observation. Iranian Christians supporting the pastor said they “rejoice” at the pastor’s release and added they pray for his quick “recovery from the ordeal and that he will have wisdom about the next steps he should take.”
Believers also asked for pray that he “will be able to receive adequate legal assistance, that Iranian justice officials will not make unreasonable bail demands,” said Middle East Concern (MEC) an advocacy group supporting Christians in the region.
They also pray that “all those in prison in Iran on account of their faith in Jesus will be released soon” and that ,”all the Iranian officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him,” MEC told BosNewsLife, citing local sources.
Iranian authorities have been cracking down on evangelical Christians with officials expressing concerns over spreading Christianity in the strict Islamic country. An increasing number of Muslims turn to Christianity, according mission groups and other sources in Iran.
That has led to pressure on the Shahr-Ara Pentecostal Church in Tehran where Bet-Tamarz, or ‘Pastor Victor’ as he is known among local Christians, held services in Farsi, the official language of Iran, until authorities banned those gatherings on March 31, 2009.
Jonathan Betkolia, an Assyrian Member of Iran’s Parliament, requested an Iranian Court to close three Assyrian Pentecostal Churches including Shahr-Ara mainly for evangelism and related activities among Farsi-speaking Iranians, according to several Christian sources.
Betkolia told the leaders of these churches they could re-open only if they banned non-Assyrians from their services and discontinued all church meetings in Farsi. Church leaders, including Bet-Tamarz, reportedly refused and their churches remain closed.
Under pressure, the Council for Assyrian Churches in Iran demoted him from his pastoral role and forced him to abandon official ministry, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
He has continued his work outside the official churches.