(Photo: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Authorities in Iran's Fars Province arrested seven Christians in a church raid on Friday, even as five other Christian converts who were detained eight months ago from the same province will face trial on Monday. Over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained over the last two years.
Security personnel on Friday evening raided a house church belonging to the Church of Iran denomination in the city of Shiraz, and detained seven Christians, U.K.-based charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported.
The seven, identified as Mohammad (Vahid) Roghangir, Suroush Saraie, Roxana Forughi, Eskandar Rezaie, Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni and Shahin Lahooti, were being held in Plaque 100, the Intelligence Ministry's notorious detention center.
Security men threatened older people at the prayer gathering, and then allowed them to leave while detaining the others.
CSW said the latest detentions were part of a "marked upsurge in a campaign of harassment of Christians of all denominations, with reports of a significant increase in arrests during recent weeks."
"There appears to be an increasing tendency by the Iranian authorities to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state," CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said. "In reality, people are being harassed merely on account of their faith."
Meanwhile, five Christian converts arrested eight months ago from Shiraz officially received a trial date through a lawyer for Monday, Mohabat News, an Iranian Christian news agency, reported.
The trial will be held in Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.
The accused were identified as Mojtaba Hosseini, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh), Vahid Hakkani, Homayoun Shokouhi and his wife Mrs. Fariba Nazemian. The charges against them include "creating illegal groups," "participating in house church service," "propagation against the Islamic regime," and "defaming Islamic holy figures through Christian evangelizing."
Since their arrest, the five Christians are being held in separate wards with dangerous criminals in Adel-Abad prison in Shiraz.
Thomas from CSW said the ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha'is and other religious minorities "contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion."
Reuters last month quoted Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, as saying that he estimated that "over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country since June 2010."
"Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion," Shaheed said. "Churches continue to report undue pressure to report membership, in what appears to be an effort to pressure and sometimes even detain converts."
Christians have faced a wave of arrests since the disputed presidential elections in June 2009. And persecution of minorities intensified as international pressure began to build over Iran's secret nuclear enrichment program leading to sanctions in the following months, World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission notes.
Authorities began to arrest Christians and members of other minorities following protests, known as the Green Revolution, over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claimed victory in the 2009 elections that were believed to be rigged. Ahmadinejad, in power since 2005, curtailed civil liberties, brutally attacked protesters, arrested hundreds and executed a few. Persecution of minorities was part of Iran's attempt to tighten control over all aspects of people's lives in the face of domestic insecurity, which the president claims is created by the West.