May 30, 2014
Written by Morning Star News
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Iran’s secret police and Revolutionary Guard are subjecting Christians to a continuing wave of arrests, and increased torture and brutal beatings, in an effort to crush the house-church movement, activists said.
Human rights activists confirmed that there has been a noticeable increase this month in the number of reported assaults against Christians imprisoned in Iran. The assaults, which are taking place against converts who lead house churches, are meant to send a message to Christians in the country, said a Middle East Concern (MEC) researcher who focuses on Iran.
A well-placed Iranian Christian reported that officials are using the beatings to scare the church, according to the researcher, unidentified for security reasons.
“These changes could be an attempt by the state to intimidate the church,” the researcher said. “These beatings are not being kept hidden at all. It’s being done to make it quite visual when relatives come to the prison to visit. If they see what happened and they pass on the information to the church community; it’s a tactic of intimidation.”
On May 5, agents from VEVAK, Iran’s internal security agency, arrested Silas Rabbani, a leader with the Church of Iran in Karaj. According to Present Truth Ministries, Rabbani, a former Muslim, has been “informally charged” with apostasy and was beaten in VEVAK custody.
He was then transferred to Gohardasht Prison, also known as Rajai Shahr, where the torture has continued.
Rabbani isn’t the only Christian that human rights groups report as tortured in Gohardasht Prison.
In mid-March, authorities allowed imprisoned U.S.-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini to go to a hospital to recover from various digestive system disorders; with proper diet and medical treatment, his condition significantly improved. But on May 20, security officials showed up at the hospital, brutally beat Abedini, subjected him to electric shocks and took him back to Gohardasht Prison, where the beatings continued, according to MEC.
Abedini has been detained since July 2012, when Iranian authorities placed him under house arrest while he was visiting Iran and working on an orphanage in Rasht. In September 2012, the Revolutionary Guard arrested Abedini and eventually transferred him to Evin Prison in Tehran.
Previously he had worked with house churches until authorities told him in 2009 him to cease all involvement with them. In January 2013, a court declared him guilty of “undermining national security” for alleged activity with house churches and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
VEVAK is also behind the beating of Amin Khaki, an assistant pastor and convert from Islam. Khaki was arrested March 5 along with seven other Christians at a picnic in Shoush, in Khuzestan Province. VEVAK has held Khaki without charge since then, and according to multiple human rights groups, both VEVAK agents and personnel at Ahwaz Karoon Prison, where he was transferred, have beaten him.
Khaki is an assistant pastor in a fellowship led by Behnam Irani, the leader of a house-church movement in Karaj.
VEVAK is largely responsible for raids against converts in the country that, as an Islamic republic, considers those who leave Islam traitors.
“Any believer from a Muslim background is looked at as a sort of a risk for national security,” the researcher for MEC said. “Instead of the normal police following them around, it’s the VEVAK officials.”
VEVAK is not alone in its efforts; Christians in Iran often find themselves running afoul of the Revolutionary Guard. After arrest, many persecuted converts are placed in Revolutionary Guard-run prison wings. The Guard was created to protect the Islamic nature of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, said a religious freedom advocate for Christian Solidarity Worldwide who requested anonymity.
“The Revolutionary Guards were created to preserve the Shia Islamic integrity of Iran,” he said. “Anyone outside of that brand of political Islam is seen as a threat.”
A beating of at least one Christian in Evin Prison preceded those in Gohardasht and Ahwaz Karoon prisons, but the motivation for it is still unclear. On April 17, more than 100 prison guards, accompanied by outside personnel, raided Ward 350, the political wing of Evin prison. They beat Farshid Fathi, who is serving a six-year sentence in the wing on political charges related to his Christian activities.
It was unclear, however, whether they assaulted him because he is a Christian. When prison officials injured another inmate, Fathi went to assist him. To stop Fathi, a prison guard stomped on the arch of Fathi’s foot, breaking it and at least one toe.
In Shiraz’s Adel-Abad Prison, a convert from Islam who had embarked on a hunger strike to protest the government’s refusal to grant his request for a temporary release has ended his strike. Vahid Hakkani began the protest on March 20 after authorities denied him the conditional release that inmates are eligible for after completing half their prison terms.
Hakkani was arrested on Feb. 8, 2012. After two court hearings, on June 2013 he was sentenced to almost four years in prison for attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime and disrupting national security. According to human rights activists, Hakkani’s condition deteriorated until he was essentially unable continue the hunger strike.
While denying Hakkani’s request, authorities granted the request of Mohammad-Reza Partovi, a convert who was arrested the same month as Hakkani and sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for his Christian activities. He was released temporarily because he had served half his sentence.