A Christian pastor at the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran was arrested during a prayer meeting at the church, which may be forced to close down in June due to pressure from Iranian authorities.
"There are lots of underground churches in Iran but the Assemblies of God, which the Church in Tehran is, is permitted to operate but with many restrictions. It has never been easy, but now they are considering closure," Kiri Kankhwende, press officer for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told The Christian Post in an email on Wednesday.
While details are scarce about the arrest of the Rev. Robert Asserian, CSW, which works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, noted that he was arrested on Tuesday morning while conducting a prayer meeting at the church. Iranian forces apparently raided his house and confiscated many of his belongings, including his computer and books. Asserian was taken to an unknown location.
"We are deeply concerned for the welfare of Rev. Asserian and urge the authorities to make his whereabouts known," said CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston. "The continued and sustained pressure by the Iranian regime on churches in Tehran has boxed them into a corner to such an extent that they can no longer function."
The Assemblies of God is facing an important decision about the future of the church, Iranian human rights organization Article 18 noted, with a local source revealing: "The pressure has become unbearable, they (the authorities) constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this."
According to CSW, Iranian Christians face intense persecution in their own country, which has a heavy Muslim majority. The AoG Church in Tehran has been one of the few that offers services in Farsi, though strict restrictions allowed it to use the language only on Sundays. Now, however, authorities have warned church leaders that they must conduct services in Armenian instead, or face closure.
"The significance of the Farsi services is because converts would attend these services too, which is why the authorities have restricted these services in particular over the years," Kankhwende explained.
CSW is renewing its call for "the Iranian government to honor its national and international obligations, in particular Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief, and the right, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance," said Johnston.
U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini is also currently imprisoned in Tehran after having been sentenced to eight years in prison supposedly for endangering national security. Hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world have rallied in his support.