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Iran detains 4 Christian converts following raids on six house churches

(Wikimedia Commons/Mike Gadd)The Vank Cathedral in Esfahan, Iran.

Four Iranian converts to Christianity were arrested last week after Iranian security forces raided six houses that were being used as home churches in the city of Karaj, about an hour drive from Tehran.

According to Radio Farda, Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were taking part in a Christian ceremony when security forces stormed into the houses and arrested them on Dec. 12.

The authorities also raided two shops belonging to two of the detainees and shut down one of the shops for "overcharging," "profiteering" and "breaking guild regulations."

IRNA, the Iranian government's official news agency, defended the arrests and referred to the detained men as members of a "devious Christian cult" who were "attempting to disrupt the market and economic order."

Khaki, one of the detainees, had been arrested with six other Christians in 2013, and he was just recently freed after serving his term in a prison in Ahvaz, capital of Khouzestan province, southwestern Iran.

Many Christians who had converted from Muslim backgrounds have been arrested in recent years, days before Christmas.

The Iranian government maintains that it allows freedom of religion and has historically reserved five seats in its 290-member parliament for recognized religious minorities even since the Islamic revolution in 1979. According to The Jerusalem Post, one seat is reserved for a Jew, two seats are for Christians, and another two are for Zoroastrians.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

Last year, 19 human rights organizations signed a joint statement urging the international community to pressure Iran to end the persecution of newly converted Christians.

Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of London-based advocacy group Article 18, noted that four Protestant Christians were sentenced to 10 years in prison each in what he described as a trial completely lacking due process.

"Charges against these Christians is legally unfounded, and their conviction to 10 years' imprisonment is violating the obvious right of freedom of opinion," he told Radio Farda.

"So many Christians in Iran are accused of merely attending Mass and prayer gatherings even in the privacy of their homes. They are all waiting for the Revolutionary Courts' verdict against them," he added.

Although no recent official statistics are available on the number of Christians in Iran, a 2011 state census recorded a total of 117,704. Most of the Christians who took part in the official census belong to recognized and tolerated traditional churches, such as Armenian churches.

However, evangelicals and other Christian denominations, which are spreading covertly in the Islamic Republic, are being treated harshly by the government.

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