By Jubin Katiraie
At least eight Iranian converts to Christianity have been arrested in just one month in Iran, including six from the northern city of Rasht.
Three men, identified as Mohammad Vafadar, Mohammad Islamdoust and Kamal No’manian, were arrested on Friday, February 15, whilst attending a church service in Rasht, and taken to unknown locations.
While on Sunday, February 10, Ministry of Intelligence agents raided the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” in Rasht, shortly after a service had ended, and arrested Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad. They also confiscated mobile phones of churchgoers, before raiding Haghnejad’s home and confiscating his books and his wife’s mobile phone.
Just two weeks earlier, on January 29, the agents raided the same church and arrested Hossein Kadivar and Khalil Dehghanpour. The agents threatened the church members and confiscated their ID cards and mobile phones.
The trio arrested had been leading the church in the absence of their pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to ten years in prison in July 2017 for “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running “house churches”.
Nadarkhani’s wife has also been threatened with arrest if she tries to leave Rasht.
While on January 23, eight plainclothes Ministry of Intelligence officers raided the home of Sina Moloudian. They physically assaulted him, arrested him without a warrant, confiscated his personal items (i.e. computer, mobile phone, Christian scriptures and books), and took him to an unknown location.
And in an undated case, agents of the Intelligence Ministry in Shiraz arrested Esmail Maghrebinejad, a 64-year-old Christian convert, in a raid on his home, during which they also confiscated his personal belongings.
Sadly, this is an ongoing epidemic in Iran as converting to Christianity is a crime that can carry a ten-year prison sentence, particularly if they try to convert others. The distribution of Christian literature in the Farsi language is also currently illegal in Iran. While there is no official crime known as apostasy in Iranian law, judges can still convict a defendant of that crime if they rule based on religious fatwas.
In December, the Telegraph reported that 114 Christian converts were arrested in just one week. Christian charities said that this was the result of the authorities wanting to send a message ahead of Christmas.
In the past several years, Christian converts in Iran have experienced an ongoing crackdown and repression in various forms, with their activity closely monitored by the Iranian intelligence service (MOIS) and the Revolutionary Guard (IRCG).