Robert Duncan from Middle East Concern (MEC) shares with Open Doors the latest developments regarding Christians in Iran imprisoned for their faith in Christ.
What can we say about the arrests of Christians in Iran last summer?
There were many arrests—exact numbers are difficult to give, but we know of 20 arrests in Kermanshah, Tehran, Shiraz and Karaj over July and August. The number could be much higher. Generally, house churches were targeted and it is believed that a government agent was able to infiltrate several house churches and gather information about members and church leaders, leading to the arrests. It illustrates just how careful house churches need to be in accepting newcomers and how big an issue security is for these people.
How were the arrests conducted?
Typically when security forces conduct a raid on a house church, they try to do it quickly and without attracting too much attention. This summer, however, there were several examples where the arrests were unnecessarily violent and witnessed by neighbors. During the August 8 raid on a house church, more than 15 plain-clothed security officers arrived at the house as a baptism was in progress. As usual, the officials confiscated books and satellite dishes and then, according to neighbors, the security officers were seen roughly treating the house church members and pushing them into a van.
What struck you in what you heard about the interrogations?
Of course, the treatment during interrogation depends very much on the interrogator, but this summer there have been consistent reports of people being beaten. This contrasts very much with an interrogation conducted in February in which the house church members were treated with respect and politely advised to leave the country. This summer, however there have been reports of violence against arrested Christians. One person in particular, a house church leader, was badly abused during interrogation, and detained for a considerable time. After being released, a friend found this person to be very distressed. Such people need our support and prayers.
Is there something we can say about the causes of these trends? Could it be related to the nuclear deal?
I strongly suspect the authorities were being much more careful during the period of negotiations, though it is impossible to prove. It was amazing that there were no arrests of Christians reported between January 1 and the beginning of April. Possibly the Iranian regime was concerned that negotiations would be linked to human rights issues and wanted to avoid any unnecessary attention.
Father, we pray now on behalf of our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters, who are suffering in Iranian prisons for their faith in Christ. You know them each one; You know the number of hairs on their head, having counted each one; You know their hearts; and You hear their cries. You fashioned them while they were in their mother’s womb, and there is nowhere they can go that You are not there. We pray Your hand of protection upon them today and in the days to come. We pray that You will sustain them in their isolation, and in times of illness, and in the midst of cruel treatment. We pray that Your presence in them will be evident to other prisoners and to guards that Your gospel will go forth even there. We thank You that they are free in Christ for all eternity, and we pray for their freedom from earthly bondage as well. Comfort their families, Lord, and sustain them in this time of separation. In the Name of Jesus, who brings justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry and frees the prisoners. Amen.