At least a dozen Christians in Iran were reportedly arrested, some of whom were allegedly beaten, by Revolutionary Guard intelligence officers last week in three cities, according to a human rights monitoring group.
Article 18, a London-based nonprofit that promotes religious freedom and tolerance for Christians in Iran, has reported on the arrests of Christians in three operations in the cities of Tehran, Karaj and Malayer that took place on June 30 and July 1.
Along with the 12 Christians who were arrested, dozens of other Christians were forced to provide their contact details for future questioning, the organization noted.
According to Article 18, the first arrests occurred around 8 p.m. last Tuesday in Tehran’s Yaftabad district when 10 intelligence officers raided the home of a Christian convert where 30 Christians were gathered.
The agents reportedly were polite at first when they were video recording the incident. But after the cameras were off, the Christians were said to have been mistreated.
The agents read out a list of names that were written on an arrest warrant.
Included on that reported list were Joseph Shahbazian, an Armenian-Iranian Christian, and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya, Mina and Maryam, who were present at the gathering.
The six of them were reportedly handcuffed, blindfolded and transported. The families were not immediately told where their loved ones have been transported to, Article 18 explained in a statement.
Others at the gathering who were not arrested had their cell phones taken and required to fill out forms stating that their phones had not been confiscated by agents.
The intelligence officers drove the six arrested Christians and some others to their homes in Tehran and Karaj to search their properties for Bibles and Christian literature and any communications devices.
Witnesses told Article 18 that some of the Christians were beaten along with their non-Christian family members.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
The agents also went to the homes of three converts who were not present at the gathering but whose names were on the arrest warrants and arrested two of them.
Three other Christian converts in the city of Malayer were arrested by the Revolutionary Guard the next morning. They were detained but released the next day after posting bail of about $1,500.
“All that is known about the fate of the other arrested Christians is that two of them had their bail set at 50 million tomans (around $2,500), and are currently seeking to raise the amount to secure their temporary release,” Article 18 said.
“It is believed that the raids were coordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust.”
Open Doors USA, an international Christian persecution monitoring organization that is present in over 60 countries, including Iran, called for Christians to pray for the believers in Iran who were arrested last week.
“Ask God to calm their fears, that they would know that they’re not alone and that the worldwide Church is standing with them. Pray that they would be treated well and for quick release to be back home with their families.”
Iran ranks as the 9th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. Converts from Islam in Iran often face persecution from the government and face the threat of arrest for attending an underground church. It is illegal to hold church services or produce Christian literature in Farsi, the main language.
Marziyeh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rostampour, two women who were born into Muslim families who went on to lead house churches and evangelized to Muslims, are examples of converts who have been arrested for their faith.
The women spent a total of 259 days in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2009. Since departing from Iran in 2010, they have often shared their experiences as converts in Iran.
“We know firsthand how difficult it is for those who attend house churches because they risk their lives to attend house churches,” Amirizadeh said at an event in February hosted by the Family Research Council. “Any time if the government find out, they can raid the gathering, arrest people, torture them and confiscate their property.”
Open Doors USA reports that 169 Christians were arrested in Iran during the organization’s 2019 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019.
According to Iran Human Rights Monitor, the Iran Revolutionary Court in southern Iran sentenced last month seven Iranian Christian converts for the alleged crime of “spreading propaganda against the state." The converts were sentenced to prison, exile, a financial penalty, and a ban on work and social activities.
In addition to being one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism, Iran is also listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating and engaging in systemic and severe violations of religious freedom.