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Iran's Largest Pentecostal Church Closed, Pastor Detained

The Central Assembles of God Church (AOG), Iran's largest Persian-speaking Pentecostal church, was closed during a worship service on Monday, according to BosNewsLife. Its pastor, Robert Asserian, was detained on May 21 and moved to an unknown location.

BNL said that the Islamic authorities are "eager to maintain their influence [and] wary of groups deemed dangerous to their power base, including growing Christian churches."

"These incidents appear to be an attempt to stop worship services from being conducted in Farsi, the language of the majority of Iranians," said George O. Wood, general superintendent of AOG in the United States. "Services are allowed in Armenian, a minority language that most Iranians do not speak or even understand."

Wood expressed his concern about the future of AOG in Iran, as well as the current unknown whereabouts of Pastor Asserian, saying it set a dangerous precedent for Farsi-language churches in the country.

"Such a move would essentially remove all open witness of the gospel of Christ in the country," he added.

There is also a fear that authorities would begin seeking the death sentence for pastors for apostasy, or abandoning Islam.

Iranian authorities have also detained a number of other pastors, including Evangelical Pastor Behnam Irani, who is reported to be suffering from health problems in Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, one of the toughest jails in the country.

AOG is also calling on the U.S. administration to "to take immediate steps to put pressure on the Iranian government to secure the release of Pastor Behnam Irani."

Wood noted that much focus in the government is on Pastor Saeed Abedini.

"I'm very thankful that so much attention has been given to him [but there are also] others in prison serving a sentence for their Christian faith," he said.

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