By Worthy News Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News) -- Iranian family members and friends were still searching Saturday, May 30, for several former Muslims who converted to Christianity, after Iranian security forces detained them during a raid at a house church.
At least five "newly converted Christians" who gathered for worship and Bible study in the city of Karaj were arrested May 21, but authorities have refused to disclose there whereabouts, said the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), citing local sources.
FCNN, which has close contacts with Christians in the strict Islamic nation, said police also seized Bibles and New Testaments during the "invasion" while "all participants were handcuffed and taken to an unknown location."
Among those detained was the host of the meeting, Javad Abtahi, and a Christian, only identified as Saeed R, whose family reportedly said that authorities have refused to tell them where the converts are being held.
The raid is the latest in a series of arrests of evangelical Christians and former Muslims in the country, some of whom are also pressured into spying for the feared secret service, Christians said.
Shortly before the reported raid, a retired Christian school teacher from the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan, Fatemeh Pauki, 58, learned that she is being denied her pension by a local court apparently because of her Christian activities, FCNN reported.
Pauki reportedly received a letter from the Ministry of Education saying that her pension income would not be paid to her from April 5. Earlier, officials of the Ministry of Information threatened and detained Pauki who has been forced to promise that she will not have contact with Christians or attend any Christian meetings, FCNN said.
In addition, she was allegedly told to cooperate security officials in spying for them. Pauki's late husband, Majid Mahmoodi Tabrizi, a convert to Christianity from Islam, was reportedly threatened by officials in an attempt to intimidate him into renouncing his faith. He was murdered by unknown assailants in July 2005 and his family has since received threatening letters warning them against inquiring further into his death, Christians said.
Christian women are also being targeted. Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, were arrested by Iranian security forces March 5 for alleged involvement in anti-government activities.
However supporters say the women are "unfairly labeled" as "anti-government activists." Their, "only crime is that they are committed Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus," FCNN commented.
They are held at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.
It has become increasingly difficult to investigate reported rights violations in the country, with Iranian authorities reportedly even intimidating activists outside the Iran.
Last month Iranian authorities attempted to silence a Christian human rights activist living in Britain by arresting and interrogation his Muslim father for six days before releasing him.
Abdul Zahra Vashahi, a retired 62-year-old suffering a heart condition, was detained May 14 in Iran’s southwestern city of Bandar Mahshahr and interrogated about the human rights activities of his son, a Christian convert who has been living in Britain since 2003, Christians said.
His son, John (Reza) Vashahi, converted to Christianity and in 2008 founded the Iranian Minorities Human Rights Organization (IMHRO).
Legislators have taken steps to mandate the death penalty for citizens who leave Islam and those who attempt to convert people to Christianity.