By Worthy News Correspondents Stefan J. Bos and Eric Leijenaar
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News) -- Members of Iran's Christian minority requested prayers Tuesday, January 27, amid reports of massive arrests of Christians, including many former Muslims, rights investigators said.
Last Wednesday, January 21, at least ten Christians, including at least several people who abandoned Islam, were detained in the capital Tehran, advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) told Worthy News.
Christian news agency Compass Direct News quoted an unidentified source as saying that Iranian Christians estimate that "maybe up to 50 people were arrested" last week. "In Tehran alone already some 10 people were arrested –- all on the same day, January 21."
Among those detained were reportedly three Christians from two different families, Hamik Khachikian, an Armenian Christian, followed by Jamal Ghalishorani, 49, and his wife Nadereh Jamali, who are both former Muslims. They were apparently taken from their homes in Tehran in the early morning on January 21.
MEC said that earlier in December "new Christian believers" were summoned to the offices of Iran's feared secret police. "They were forced to sign documents stating that they would not meet together to celebrate Christmas."
Elsewhere leaders of Christian house churches for ex-Muslims were threatened in at least three provinces with "serious consequences" if they had further dealings with other Christian officials "either inside or outside of Iran," MEC told Worthy News.
Netherlands-based Open Doors, a group supporting Christians reportedly persecuted for their faith, said that earlier in the spring and summer authorities detained at least 35 Christians, including Tina Rad en Makan Arya on June 3.
However up to 50 arrests in one day did not happen since 2004, said Open Doors case worker Klaas Muurling. In 2004, some 89 Iranian church leaders were detained for interrogation," Muurling added in a statement to Worthy News.
Advocacy groups say the latest wave of arrests suggest that authorities are stepping up a campaign against Christians and other religious and ethnic minority groups. There were no immediate reactions from Iranian officials.
However the reported crackdown comes after Iranian's parliament approved legislation that would make "apostasy", or leaving Islam, a capital offense for both men and women. One of Iran's leading Protestant pastors, Hussein Soodman, was already executed in December 1990 for converting from Islam to Christianity, after an Islamic court condemned him.
Hussein Soodman, an Assemblies of God pastor, had been involved in Christian activities for 24 years, Christians said. He was reportedly hanged on December 3, 1990, as part of a wave of repression directed against the small Christian community in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The law currently debated still awaits approval of the Guardians Council, which investigates all legislation for compliance with Islamic principles and authorization by the Supreme Leader.
In addition, "several believers arrested and released in 2008 are still waiting to be informed of the dates of court hearings," said MEC. "Previous cases suggest that some may never receive a hearing date and that their cases might end quietly, though sometimes without the return of bail money. Others may be informed of hearing dates which are then repeatedly rescheduled."
The group said that, "Iranian Christians request our prayers that Hamik, Jamal, Nadereh and others arrested last week will know the Lord's presence in prison" and that "all those detained for their faith will be released soon." Local Christians also asked prayers "for the ongoing wave of arrests to end," spiritual support for upcoming trials, that apostasy legislation will be dropped, and that,"all officials involved will hear the good news of Jesus," MEC added.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran's ultra-conservative mayor, has come under international pressured to allow more political and religious freedom in this strict Islamic nation. However analysts say much also depent on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader - the highest power in the land - who appoints the head of the judiciary, military leaders, the head of radio and television and Friday prayer leaders.