Iranian police invaded the annual general conference of Iran’s Assemblies of God Church Thursday, detaining at least 80 church leaders. According to a report from Compass Direct, each was blindfolded and led away for interrogation by security forces.
The arrest occurred just as the general conference of Assemblies of God in Iran had gathered for the first day of meetings at the church’s denominational center in Karaj, 20 miles west of Tehran. Sources say police burst in, arresting everyone in attendance. The police apparently had specific personal information on each person attending.
After questioning the Christians, the police released all but the pastors in attendance. The location of these ten men is unknown and there has been no contact with their families. Those who had been released were forbidden to attend church services.
“This is the biggest crisis for evangelical believers in the country since three Protestant pastors were murdered 10 years ago,” another source told Compass.
Glenn Penner, Communications Director for the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) commented, “This is an extremely serious situation for the church in Iran; a country where churches have been strictly controlled and where conversion to Christianity means death.”
VOM reports that Christians make up less than one-half of one percent of the population. Open witness to Muslims is banned and government spies monitor Christian groups. Believers are also discriminated against in education, employment, and property ownership and several pastors have been murdered. Although missions are not allowed to enter Iran, a growing number of Muslims have converted to Christianity. Those who do convert, however, often face serious danger to themselves and their families and may seek refugee status abroad; something that foreign governments are not always willing to grant, as shown in two cases involving Canada in 2002 and 2003.
“Pray for safety for these pastors and their families,” Penner said. “Pray for strength for the Christians whose spiritual leadership has suddenly been taken from them.”