Iranian authorities have arrested a Christian evangelical pastor in what many organizations are saying is a growing crackdown on Christianity in Iran.
Abdolreza "Matthias" Haghnejad, a pastor in the evangelical Church of Iran was arrested on August 17 while making a pastoral visit, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported.
Haghnejad’s family says he is being held without access to an attorney and they do not know what the charges against him are or where he is being held.
This is the second time Haghnejad has been arrested. The U.S. State Department reported that on May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried Haghnejad and ten other members of the Church of Iran, including Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of “acting against national security.”
All 11 members of the church were acquitted on the basis that they have a right to practice their religion and doing so does not harm national security.
According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Christianity is a recognized religion under the Iranian Constitution and the government allows Iran’s historic and ethnic Orthodox Christian communities to practice their faith. However, Protestant leaders have faced heavy persecution because they consist primarily of converts and engage in proselytizing.
Moreover, the Campaign says, Iranian courts and officials have begun to define Protestant groups in political terms, trying Protestant believers and leaders in Revolutionary Courts, which are reserved for political and national security offenses, with much heavier sentences.
“So now [authorities] are elevating being Christian to a political crime," said Firouz Sadegh-Khanjani, a member of the Church of Iran’s National Council.
"Basically they are saying if you’re Christian, then you must be against the regime. This might sound laughable but this is the view they are moving forward with.”