June 4, 2008

ISTANBUL  – Two Iranian converts to Christianity jailed for the past few weeks have been released by security police, who demanded valuable property deeds as bail collateral.

Authorities in the southern city of Shiraz set free 21-year-old Mojtaba Hussein late yesterday afternoon, requiring a bail guarantee worth US$20,000 for his freedom.

“This time it was the authorities who called in his family,” an Iranian Christian told Compass today. “They acted very differently from the first time, when they told them Mojtaba could not be released because he was refusing to cooperate. Now they are taking notice of international pressure about his case.”

Hussein remains under virtual house arrest, subjected to strict surveillance of all his communications.

Charged with “activities against our holy religion,” Hussein now has a formal court case filed against him.

The same official charge has been leveled against Hamoyon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 58, another former Muslim who was arrested just two hours before authorities arrested Hussein and three members of his family after raiding their home on May 11.

But the charges against six other converts arrested with Hussein and Gholamzadeh accuse them only of “activities against the country.”

With the pending charges left open, all eight Christians could be called to court for trial at any time in the future.

Iranian security police routinely arrest and interrogate Christian converts, who are considered criminals guilty of apostasy against Islam. While in custody, the Christians are subjected to rough interrogations, attempting to forcibly extract information from them about Iran’s spreading network of illegal house churches.

Despite Hussein’s release, two other former Muslims arrested in a Shiraz park on May 13 remain jailed, their location and condition unknown. Mahmood Matin and a second man identified only by his first name, Arash, are members of another house church group in the city.

Converts Targeted in North

Another Christian convert arrested with his wife in late April in the northern city of Amol, in Mazandaran province, was ordered released three days ago. He was required to guarantee his bail with a huge deposit based on the monetary worth of his home.

The convert’s pregnant wife had been released after three days in custody.

The Amol Christian has been informed that a case has been opened against him, and that he can expect to be called to court for trial at any time.

“This is the pattern they usually follow,” said an Iranian pastor now living abroad who knows the Amol couple. “They put them in jail for a few weeks, beat them, and put a lot of pressure on them to get information about the other converts.”

It is clear, he said, that the government knows about the growing number of former Muslims in Manzandaran province who have come to faith in Christ and been baptized in recent years.

One Christian leader in Iran’s northern region has been arrested repeatedly during the past two years by police officials. He was beaten so severely earlier this year that he required hospitalization after his release and was unable to walk for three months.

“If we keep silent about this, the government will just continue doing this,” the pastor said. “We must not keep our mouths shut about it.”

Under Iran’s strict Islamic laws, it is illegal to proselytize Muslims, and any Muslim who converts from Islam to another religion can be executed. A draft law before the re-elected Iranian parliament would make the death penalty mandatory for “apostates” who leave Islam.

Under the past three decades of Iran’s Islamist regime, hundreds of citizens who have left Islam and become Christians have been arrested for weeks or months, held in unknown locations and subjected to mental and physical torture.

When released on bail, they remain under threat of criminal prosecution if they dare to worship in house churches or become involved in any Christian activities.

The Iranian government categorically denies that it arrests or executes any citizens for their faith. Instead, official spokesmen insist “judicial” or “security” charges are involved in such cases, which they often claim are linked to involvement with foreign interests alleged to be against Iran’s national interests.

Responding to international protests after last month’s arrest and jailing of six more leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community, government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham declared, “Linking security issues to ideological ones would be a mistake. Every country must defend its security, and this has nothing to do with ideological issues.”

Pastor Hossein Soodmand, the last Iranian Christian convert from Islam executed by the Iranian government in 1990, was accused of working as “an American spy.” Since then six more Protestant pastors have been assassinated by unknown killers.

Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News