Iranian authorities have arrested several Christians in the Tehran province accused of planning a religious and cultural attack against the country.
The governor of Tehran, Morteza Tamaddon, vowed to find and detain members involved in a movement he called “deviated” and “corrupt.”
"The leaders of this movement have been arrested in Tehran province and more will be arrested in the near future," he said, according to official news agency IRNA on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the Christians being held are Iranian or foreigners, as the government has yet to reveal their identities. But Tamaddon has described them as “tabshiri” or missionaries.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a U.K.-based human rights group, the detained individuals are evangelical believers and include pastors and leaders from within the house church networks of Iran.
“The government puts severe pressure on such individuals interrogating them brutally and holding them in solitary confinement in order to obtain the names of other church members, to deter them from continuing to practice their faith and to threaten them with further ramifications for Christian activities,” the group said.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted that the anti-Christian rhetoric used by the media and members of the Iranian government was troubling.
Tamaddon claimed the Christians were engaged in a “conspiracy” initiated by the British in the Islamic Republic. "Just like the Taliban ... who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, they have crafted a movement with Britain's backing in the name of Christianity," he said.
Andrew Johnston, advocacy director of CSW, said the arrests demonstrate a clear targeting of individuals along religious lines and called the government to “uphold international standards of religious freedom for all its citizens.”
While Islam is the official religion in Iran, the constitution recognizes Christians, who account for less than one percent of the population, as a "protected" religious minority. However, the government has severely restricted freedom of religion in the country. Over 70 Christians were reportedly arrested by officials over the Christmas period.
Many church services are continually monitored by the secret police, while active believers are often interrogated and beaten.