WASHINGTON — The pastor of a Pentecostal church in Iran was arrested last week during a religious service, and the church has now been closed by government officials, according to news reports.
“These incidents appear to be an attempt to stop worship services from being conducted in Farsi, the language of the majority of Iranians,” said George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in the United States.
He explained to BosNewsLife, a Central European Christian news service, that such worship services “are allowed in Armenian, a minority language that most Iranians do not speak or even understand.”
The Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran was closed on May 27 following the arrest of Pastor Robert Asserian during a service held at the church six days earlier. Members of his congregation said they do not know where he is being held.
“Before going to the church, authorities raided Pastor Asserian’s home, where they confiscated a computer and several books,” Wood said.
“Then, they found Pastor Asserian at the church leading the prayer service, immediately arrested him and announced the church’s imminent closure.”
Asserian is the latest in a series of Christian pastors to be arrested and detained in Iran. While Iranian law offers some protections for Chaldean Catholic and Armenian Christians, it does not recognize or protect members of Protestant Christian groups or other kinds of Catholic Christians.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, a United States citizen, was arrested in September 2012 and received an eight-year sentence in Iran’s Evin prison. According to family members, he has been brutally beaten and denied medical care.
In addition, Pastor Behnam Irani is being held in Ghezel Hesar Prison, near the capital of Iran, where recent reports indicate that his health is deteriorating.
Another Christian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, was imprisoned in Iran for converting away from Islam. He spent three years in prison and received a death sentence before being released amid mounting international pressure.
Religious freedom and human-rights groups are now seeking to raise similar awareness and pressure on behalf of the other imprisoned pastors.
A petition to the White House has been launched on behalf of Irani, while a social-media campaign is under way to support Abedini.