There's no shortage of stories surrounding Iran's continually-horrendous human rights record. Following the Christmas holiday, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a U.K.-based nonprofit, is making some startling charges. According to the group, Iranian authorities raided a church that was celebrating Christmas last week and detained everyone in the building -- including kids who were in Sunday school.
CSW claims that officials in Ahwaz, a southern town in Iran, raided the church -- an affiliate of Assemblies of God -- and placed all congregants into two buses. The majority of those celebrating at the house of worship were purportedly interrogated, threatened and then eventually released, but the church's senior pastor (a man known only as "Farhad") apparently remains in detention. His wife and some church leaders, too, were said to be held still by Iranian officials.
Here's the really odd part (aside from the inability of Iranians to worship openly): CSW claims that the church isn't underground and that it has been an official and established house of worship for quite some time (the Christian Post says there are about 70 registered churches in Iran). But this apparently isn't the first time that Farhad has had run-ins with the law. In the past, he's been told not to allow Muslim converts into the church and he's been detained numerous times before.
Here's more from the organization's press release:
This wave of arrest comes as Iranian media has been publicising a Christmas message sent to Pope Benedict from Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, in which he congratulated his Christian counterparts on the “auspicious anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ”, wished blessing, happiness and prosperity to the Pope and all Christians in the coming year, and stated that the world’s ills were caused by ignoring ethics and justice.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Mr. Larijani’s Christmas message may have been well intentioned, but it is entirely undermined by these arrests, which violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Iran’s own constitution. The Iranian authorities often insist that Christians are being arrested for indulging in actions that threaten public security, however, it is difficult to conceive how children attending Sunday school or, for that matter, legitimate Christmas celebrations fit into this category. It increasingly appears as if the Iranian regime has decided to deem every act of Christian worship a threat to national security. If this is indeed the case, then the right to freedom of religion or belief is gravely under threat in Iran.”
Iran has apparently claimed that authorities only arrest individuals when their actions threaten public security. If the claims presented by CSW are true, though, this proclamation clearly isn't. The non-profit is asking supporters to send notes to the children who were detained, as they believe some of them may be scared and emotionally-impacted by the events that unfolded.
This case is highly reminiscent of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's ongoing legal drama, which the Blaze has highlighted frequently over the past few months. While the reasons for Nadarkhani's detainment continue to evolve, a decision regarding his fate could come at any moment. Currently, he faces the death penalty for apostasy (although the government has claimed his situation comes as a result of a number of other alleged crimes).
Religious freedom clearly isn't at the forefront of Iranian authorities' concerns.
(H/T: Christian Post)