Police in a southern city in Iran reportedly arrested 12 Christian converts from Islam in what appears to be part of a crackdown on the country's growing house church movement.
The first arrests took place on May 11 at the Shiraz International Airport when two Christian couples were taken into custody before boarding their flight. They were all sent to jail and interrogated for hours "just about their faith and house church activities," an Iranian source told Compass Direct News, a Christian persecution watchdog group.
Also on the same day, authorities raided the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, and arrested him and members of his family.
Out of the 12 Christian converts arrested, eight have been released.
Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, believes the crackdown on Christian converts is part of a fear tactic aimed at Christians who want to practice their faith.
He also warned that jailed Christian converts often face death.
"In many cases, some (Iranian Christians) just disappear," Moeller says, according to OneNewsNow. "And of course we assume, and evidence in the past has indicated, that these people are either killed outright or die during torture."
"In this case, four still remain in custody and at least two of them are without communication," he said. "We really don't know where they're being held."
It is illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity in Iran, which is a crime of apostasy that can be punishable by execution.
Moeller thinks the arrested Christians are being tortured to reveal names of others in the underground church.
Iran is ranked third on Open Doors' World Watch List for countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a "Country of Particular Concern," a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.