Christians in Iran Seek Help for Children Arrested During Church Raid

A group of Christian children whose Sunday school was raided by Iranian authorities last Christmas have been subject to potential mental strain after the event and need international support, says the Hamgam Council of Iranian Churches.

The organization is encouraging churches in Iran and abroad to send cards of encouragement to the children, reported Mohabat News, an Iranian Christian News Agency.

Many of the children are reportedly experiencing a series of mental problems resulting from the brutal raid, which the Iranian authorities launched on their Assemblies of God-affiliated church on Dec. 23, 2011, during the church’s Christmas celebration event. The authorities reportedly detained everyone in the building, including children, who were attending Sunday school there.

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During the raid – which took place in the southern town of Ahwaz – officials herded the entire congregation into two buses and reportedly placed everyone under arrest, according to witnesses. The security officials reportedly had their faces covered during the raid and treated the l children "badly" during the arrest, Mohabat News reported.

While the majority of the members were "interrogated, threatened and eventually released," the church’s senior pastor remained in detention, along with his wife and some church leaders, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

CSW also noted at the time that the church was not part of the house church movement, which is regularly targeted by the Iranian government, but is an official and long-established church. Its history can be traced to former followers of John the Baptist who converted to Christianity, according to reports.

The Christian observers in Iran and abroad have expressed concern about the children’s mental health following the event. Sunday school children from other churches in the country were also called upon to take part in the card-sending campaign, to demonstrate their solidarity. The cards are to be delivered via CSW.

Iran is one of the few countries where the government openly persecutes the Christian community. The relatively recent case of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani evoked a storm of protests across the world. The United States has condemned his imprisonment and death sentence for "apostasy," and has called upon Iran to release the minister.

According to U.S.-based organization Iranian Christians Concern (ICC), the persecution of the Christian community started in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after foreign missionaries were chased out of the country. Since then, "If an Iranian called himself a Christian, he now had to be willing to pay a high price for his faith," the organization said.

"This has led many Iranian youth to seek answers outside of Islam. Thousands are now finding the hope and joy they had been longing for in the Christian faith," Aidan Clay, ICC's regional manager for the Middle East told The Christian Post recently. "The increasing growth of Christianity in Iran is of course viewed as a threat to the Iranian regime which uses Islam to control its people. In order to maintain control, the regime continues to try to weed Christianity out of the country."

There are roughly 70 registered churches in Iran apart from house churches, according to reports. The latter attract particular enmity from Iranian authorities.

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