|05/07/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Today is Saeed Abedini’s 34th birthday and it marks 589 days that the Iranian-American Christian has been imprisoned in Iran. While Saeed and dozens more Christians have been arrested because of their faith activities, Iranian Christians remain under the constant threat of arrest for nothing more than their religious beliefs.
On May 5, Silas Rabbani, an associate pastor at a church in Karaj, Iran, and a married father of two, was arrested by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (VEVAK). According to Present Truth Ministries, Silas’ home had been raided in December 2013 while he was away and a laptop and Christian materials were seized from his home. In January, he was brought in by VEVAK and interrogated for eight hours before being released.
Rabbani was brought into court on May 6 and was able to see his wife there. “He told her that they beat him during interrogation,” Jason DeMars of Present Truth told International Christian Concern (ICC). “They told him in court that he is an apostate,”DeMars continued. Rabbani is now being held in Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj. It is unknown if formal charges have been brought against Rabbani.
Rabbani is the third leader connected with the same church that has been taken into custody. Amin Khaki was detained in Shoush, Iran on March 5 and remains in custody. Benham Irani is presently serving a total of six years in Rajai Shahr prison. He has previously reported of the harsh treatment he has endured during his imprisonment, according to Mohabat News.
Shahin Lahouti, a musician and convert to Christianity, was recently returned to prison,Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported. Lahouti had been arrested in October 2012 and sentenced to two-and-a-half years, but was released on bail with conditions that he have no part in Christian activities. “We are deeply concerned that Mr Lahouti has been returned to prison. His initial conviction and sentencing were unjust and traumatic for him, his bail conditions were unacceptable, and his re-imprisonment compounds this injustice,” Andy Dipper of CSW said in a press release.
Abuse of prisoners has recently drawn international attention following an April 17 incident in Tehran’s Evin prison where at least 30 prisoners, including Christian Farshid Fathi were injured by prison guards. “A prison guard broke Farshid Fathi’s foot by repeatedly stomping on it as Fathi assisted an injured inmate,” Gary Lane of CBNreported.
In protest of the unjust trials for Christians and the abusive treatment he has faced in prison, Vahid Hakkani has staged a hunger strike that has lasted in excess of 35 days.“A hunger strike is the last resort for Iranian prisoners of conscience and political prisoners to make their voices be heard,” said Mohabat News. Hakkani is facing more than three years in prison and has been in need of medical treatment for internal problems that have intensified the concerns of his family.
The situation for Saeed Abedini has improved slightly in recent weeks. He was transferred to a hospital where he is able to receive medical treatment for the injuries received during his imprisonment. His family has also been able to receive greater access to him, Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, told ICC. Yet he continues to serve out an eight year prison term for his previous activity with house churches.
Despite promises of reform from the incoming President Rouhani there has been no sign of improvement for religious minorities. “In 2013 alone, the authorities reportedly arrested at least 42 Christians, of whom 35 were convicted for participation in informal ‘house churches,'” wrote Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, in a March 2014 report.”Iranian authorities at the highest levels have designated house churches and evangelical Christians as threats to national security,” wrote Shaheed.
Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle Eas
t, said, “Iran continues to violate the most basic and fundamental rights of its citizens. The continued repression and abuse of its religious minorities raise serious doubts about the commitment of the Iranian regime to abide by its international agreements, as it regularly violates human rights standards that it has previously signed. If Iran wishes to demonstrate its commitment to reform, the treatment of its religious minorities is the place to start.”