BosNewsLife

Militants with suspected ties to Iranian security forces have threatened to kill nearly a dozen evangelical Christians who fled Iran unless they "repent" and return to Islam, according to well-informed sources.

At least 11 Iranian Christians received email messages from ‘The Unknown Soldiers Of The Hidden Imam’ calling on them to either repent or face extra-judicial execution, said an Iranian church group and religious rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

At least 11 Iranian Christians received email messages from ‘The Unknown Soldiers Of The Hidden Imam’ calling on them to either repent or face extra-judicial execution, said an Iranian church group and religious rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The email threats came as in Iran Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani awaits a possible death sentence on charges of "apostasy", or abandoning Islam, although an Iranian official and government-linked media included "offenses" ranging from "rape and extortion" to "security crimes" to the long list of alleged wrongdoings.

The ‘Unknown Soldiers’ are alleged to have links with Iranian security services, CSW said in a statement.

The group's email, which was sent to each individual last month, reportedly warns the recipients that although they may have managed to flee Iran, "they are not hidden from the acute eyes of the Unknown Soldiers".

The Unknown Soldiers wrote they were "advancing to the heart of the ‘Zionist regime’ over a number of years."

The email concludes by offering the 11 Christians "the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness from the presence of the Hidden Imam", also known as the 12th Imam, a Messiah-figure in Shia Twelver theology and viewed as the Great Allah.

"Otherwise, according to the Fatwa given by Mehdi the Hidden Imam, they must be killed," the email reportedly says.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s chief executive officer, told BosNewsLife that "the threat against the eleven Iranian citizens in the Diaspora is an appalling and vicious move by a group suspected of close association with the Iranian security forces".

It was difficult to reach Iranian officials for comment. However in a statement, Reverend Samuel Yeghnazar of Iranian church group Elam Ministries, said he and his network of churches "are taking the threats very seriously."

Rev Yeghnazar has been closely involved in the house church movement in Iran.

The reported threats were expected to put additional pressure on Pastor Nadarkhani and his 400-member Church of Iran congregation in the city of Rasht. Christians with close knowledge about the situation said the fate of the pastor may now lie in the hands of a local religious leader, identified as Ayatollah Ghorbani.

Additionally, official Gholam-Ali Rezvani, deputy governor general of the northern province of Gilan where the pastor's case is being reheard, said on Friday that the pastor should be executed for being a traitorous "Zionist" and committing "security crimes."

However, "CSW is in possession of original court documents which clearly state that the charge against him is apostasy, and that the death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court," Mr Thomas said.

"Iran’s efforts to fabricate fresh charges against Pastor Nadarkhani this late in the day reflect badly on the ruling regime and will only serve to bring the Iranian legal system into disrepute and occasion further questions regarding the independence of the judiciary.”

Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

"Iran’s efforts to fabricate fresh charges against Pastor Nadarkhani this late in the day reflect badly on the ruling regime and will only serve to bring the Iranian legal system into disrepute and occasion further questions regarding the independence of the judiciary.”

The latest statements came after Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife there was a government crackdown on especially Christian coverts in the strict Islamic nation.

In the past 11 months at least 137 Christians "have suffered arbitrary arrests and interrogations" and nearly 40 believers were kept in prison for several weeks, according to CSW and other rights groups estimates.

One Christian from the capital Tehran, Fashid Fathi-Malayeri, has been imprisoned for nine months, several weeks of which were spent in solitary confinement, Christians said.

Activists say he has had no access to a lawyer and still has not been informed of the exact charges against him. His wife and two small children have fled Iran for their own safety, CSW said.

There was concern about their safety and that of other Iranian Christians who fled the country.

"It is vital that countries hosting Iranian refugees and asylum seekers ensure these vulnerable people receive adequate protection, and make it clear to the Iranian authorities that cross-border assassinations are wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated," stressed Mr Thomas.

Iran's government has denied wrongdoing and says it wants to defend Islamic values. There may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in heavily Islamic Iran, according to conservative church group estimates, although other churches say there may be hundreds of thousands of Christians in the country.

Many of them are believed to have converted from Islam.

• Late breaking news: BosNewsLife reports that Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's lawyer says he "looks weak" but "his belief in Christ is keeping his spirits high", despite possible execution.