Three Christian Converts Imprisoned

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CWN.org -- Police in the southern Iran city of Shiraz this month cracked down against known Muslim converts to Christianity, arresting members of three Christian families and confiscating their books and computers.

The arrests began at 5 a.m. on May 11, when two couples were taken into custody before boarding their flights at the Shiraz International Airport and sent directly to jail. All four were subjected to hours of interrogation, questioning them solely "just about their faith and house church activities," an Iranian source told Compass.

The detained Christians were identified as Homayon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 48, and his wife Fariba Nazemiyan Pur, 40; and Amir Hussein Bab Anari, 25, and his wife Fatemeh Shenasa, 25.

Although the two wives were released the same day of their arrest, Anari was detained until May 14, and Gholamzadeh was not released until the following week.

Two hours after the early morning arrests of May 11, police authorities invaded the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, arresting him and his three adult children, Fatemah, 28, Muhammed Ali, 27, and Mojtaba, 21.

All the family's books, CDs, computers and printers were hauled off as well.

Hussein, his daughter and one son were released later the same day, but son Mojtaba remains in prison.

Two days later, local police picked up two more former Muslims involved in a separate house church in Shiraz as the Christian converts were talking together in a city park. Both men, Mahmood Matin and a second man identified only as Arash, are still jailed.

Still another arrest incident was reported last month in the northern city of Amol, in Mazandaran province near the Caspian Sea. Two of the arrested converts to Christianity, one a pregnant woman, are still imprisoned, with no news of their whereabouts.

Mushrooming House Churches Over the past two years, Iran's harsh Shiite Muslim regime has continued to arrest, harass and intimidate dozens of citizens involved in the nation's mushrooming house church movements.

One such movement confirmed last month that its indigenous groups of Iranian converts to Christianity are doubling in size every six months.

Converts from Islam are routinely subjected to both physical and psychological mistreatment while being held for days or weeks, usually in solitary confinement. Huge bail amounts are demanded for their release, under the threat of further detention or formal criminal prosecution if caught worshipping or spreading their faith.

The large number of Iranians embracing Christianity has been attributed in part to a number of radio stations and satellite television channels launched in the past five years broadcasting Christian programs in Farsi into the country 24 hours a day.

One Tehran analyst quoted in a May 8 article in US News & World Report accused Christian satellite TV channels of "emotionally manipulating" Iranian viewers into changing their religion.

"Iranians are looking for a balm, and proselytizers are taking advantage of that," the unidentified analyst claimed.

But Iranian Christian converts both inside and outside the country disagree. The overwhelmingly unpopular Islamist regime has so disillusioned its citizens with Islam, they say, that thousands are now willing to risk arrest, lashings and even death to find peace and purpose for their lives.

In January of this year, the Iranian parliament drafted a proposed criminal code that would make the death penalty mandatory for "apostates" who leave Islam for another religion.

Under the existing law, apostasy is one of several "crimes" which can be punished with execution, although Islamic court judges are not required to hand down a death sentence.

The last Iranian Christian convert from Islam formally charged with apostasy was acquitted in May 2005. But Hamid Pourmand served 22 months of a three-year prison sentence on fabricated charges before he was finally released under virtual house arrest in July 2006.

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