Thursday, 1 September 2011

Iran: further arrests of Christians and Bibles confiscated

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has received reports that Abdolreza ‘Matthias’ Haghnejad, a pastor in the evangelical Church of Iran denomination from the city of Bandar Anzal, was re-arrested on the morning of 17 August by Iranian authorities in Rasht whilst making a pastoral visit.

Pastor Haghnejad’s family has no idea of his current whereabouts, his condition or the charges against him, and it is believed he is being held without access to an attorney. Earlier this year the pastor was detained, charged then acquitted, along with ten other members of his denomination, of activities against the order. He had also been arrested in 2006.

Pastor Haghnejad’s re-arrest has occurred amidst reports of another escalation in governmental pressure on Christians. In late July a Christian woman named Leila Mohammadi, was arrested in Tehran after police raided her house, according to Iranian news agency Mohabat News. Reports indicate she may have been transferred to Evin prison. A man was also reportedly detained temporarily in connection with this case.

In August a consignment of 6,500 Bibles was confiscated as it was being transported between the cities of Zanjan and Ahbar in the north-western province of Zanjan. In a comment on the seizure, Dr Majid Abhari, advisor to the social issues committee of the Iranian parliament, declared that Christian missionaries were attempting to deceive people, especially the youth, with an expensive propaganda campaign. He also indicated his belief that all religions are strengthening their power to confront Islam.

This rhetoric is the latest in a stream of condemnations of Christians from members of the Iranian regime, who have attempted to demonise Christians as western-backed conspirators, ‘parasites’ and ‘like the Taliban’.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “These latest arrests are extremely concerning, as is the increase in hostile and unwarranted rhetoric on the part of Iranian officials against evangelical Christians. CSW is particularly concerned for the wellbeing of Pastor Haghnejad, who is seemingly being held incommunicado, without charge, and with no access to legal representation. It is vital that the Republic of Iran ensures due process and ends this practice of incarcerating persons simply on the basis of their faith as this is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Those who, like the pastor, have been arrested must either be charged and tried in a timely manner or released, and all detainees must be allowed contact with their families and lawyers.”

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