One Iranian Pastor Still in Custody

Sources say one of the ten evangelical pastors in Iran reportedly released from detention by police authorities on September 12 is still being held
( [email protected] ) Sep 15, 2004 11:30 AM EDT

One of the ten evangelical pastors reportedly released from detention by police authorities on September 12 is still being held without means of communication, Protestant church leaders in Iran discovered this morning.

According to Compass News, Assemblies of God Pastor Hamid Pourmand, 47, has not returned to his home in Bandar-i Bushehr, and is presumed to still be under police arrest in the Karaj-Tehran area, where he was initially detained with other church leaders earlier last week.

On the morning of September 9, eighty leaders of Iran’s Assemblies of God Church had convened for their annual general conference in Karaj, 20 miles west of the capital Tehran, when police swarmed into the church-owned center. Sources say all attendants were blindfolded and taken away to be fingerprinted and interrogated. Although most were released by evening, the ten pastors among them were held for questioning for four days. Until their release, the location of the ten men was unknown and there had been no contact with their families.

When the pastors were released separately late on the night of September 12, they were strictly warned not to contact one another or other members of the church. So it was not until this morning that the Assemblies of God leadership discovered that in fact Pourmand was still missing.

Pourmand, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity nearly 25 years ago, pastors a congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr, along the Persian Gulf in southern Iran. He and his wife, who is of Assyrian Christian background, have two children.

Compass reports that since the government-ordered execution of convert pastor Hussein Soodmand in Mashhad in December 1990, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enacted a harsh crackdown against the country’s evangelical churches and various house-church movements accused of evangelizing Muslims.

In July 1994, another long-term convert to Christianity, Assemblies of God pastor Mehdi Dibaj was murdered six months after completing a nine-year prison sentence for refusing to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam.

In another incident two years later, the body of Pastor Mohammed Bagher Yusefi was found hanging in the forest near his home in Sari, in northern Iran’s Mazandaran province. Survived by his wife and two children, 34-year-old Yusefi had converted to Christianity 10 years earlier.

Over the past decade, local Protestant congregations have been harshly suppressed by the Iranian authorities for allowing Muslims to visit their services or for being suspected of baptizing former Muslims converting to Christianity.