Iran: Nine Christians arrested in church on Christmas Day

Women worship as part of Iran's Christian community, which is growing despite persecutionReuters

A group of Christians in Iran have been arrested while attending church on Christmas Day in Shiraz.

The church was raided by plain-clothes officers from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security who  confiscated personal items and satellite dishes and behaved "offensively" towards those taken into custody, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The arrested Christians included Mohsen Javadi, Elaheh Izadi, Ahmad Golshani-Nia, Reza Mohammadi, Mahmoud Salehi, Moussa Sari-Pour, Alireza Ali-Qanbari, Mohammad-Reza Soltanian and a ninth unidentified person. Two days earlier another Christian, Meysam Hojjati, was beaten, handcuffed and arrested in a raid on his home. His books, computer, mobile phone and even his decorated Christmas tree were confiscated.

Shahin Gobadi of NCRI said: "There has been a steady deterioration of human rights abuses in Iran during Hassan Rouhani's tenure as president including executions and suppression of religious and ethnic minorities. This is just another case in point. Actually the clerical regime is one of the top violators of rights of religious minorities including Christians in the world. The regime has institutionalised repression of the Iranian people as the main tool of its survival."

Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of NCRI, said: "I wish that 2016 would be a year of unity and victory over Islamic extremism and especially the religious fascism ruling Iran and its evil allies in the Middle East who sow the seeds of enmity in the world.

"Muslims and Christians can rely on their common values to stand up to those who pervert their religions. Let us hope for the relief of converted Christians in Iran from the oppression of ruling mullahs and for freedom of the whole Iranian nation from this religious dictatorship.

"On this occasion, I call on the world community to form an international front against the religious dictatorship in Iran and its proxies and militia in Syria and Iraq and to fight Islamic extremism, the enemy of true Muslims, Christians and all followers of other divine religions."

No reason was given for the nine arrests although merely celebrating the holiday could have been sufficient. In addition, according to reports, Iran executed nine prisoners on Christmas Day.

Besides persecuting Christians, Iran has executed openly gay people and people suspected of being gay. One woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was executed in 2014 for killing a man who she said had tried to rape her. 

Meanwhile, one Iranian pastor was released from prison this month, just six months after he failed to appeal his sentence to a further year in jail and 74 lashes for allegedly possessing two litres of alcohol in his prison cell, World Watch Monitor reports.

Farshid Fathi was serving a six-year prison sentence – extended to seven years – for "action against the regime's security, being in contact with foreign organisations, and religious propaganda."  He was originally arrested on Boxing Day 2010 at the same time as about 60 other Christians, many belonging to house churches in Tehran and other cities. Most of those have now been released.