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Concerns over five Iranian house church members ‘missing’ after picnic arrest

Morning Star News

Five members of an Iranian house church are missing after government agents arrested them on 26th August without a warrant and took them to an undisclosed location, according to a leading advocacy group.

No information is available on the whereabouts of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary, Mohamad Dehnay and Amir Sina Dashti. Iranian Christians are fearful that the arresting officials have attempted to “force confessions” out of them to use as “evidence” against a central figure in the house-church movement, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).

The five men and their wives on Friday went on a fishing trip and picnic to Firuzkuh, 150 kilometres east of Tehran. At about 1:30pm security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the picnic.

When Afshar asked to see the arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce, he was beaten, according to MEC.

Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran, said the arrest was “absolutely illegal” and alarming because it took place at a picnic and not a religious meeting.

“The fact of the matter is they were going on a fishing trip,” he said. “There wasn’t even any intention of having a prayer meeting or anything like that. There was nothing.”

MOIS officials separated the men from the women and took the five men away. Family members have been unable to obtain information about their whereabouts.

One of the detained Christians, Tamraz, is the son of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested along with other Christians at his home on 26th December, 2014, at a Christmas celebration. The elder Tamraz was informally charged with conducting evangelism, conducting illegal house-church activities and printing and distributing Bibles. He was released on bail on 1st March, 2015, without ever being formally charged in court.

Afshar, arrested in 2014 along with the elder Tamraz, had been released on bail a month earlier. The two are expected to be summoned to court to face charges related to the 2014 arrests, and MEC representatives believe the government has subjected the five detained Christians to “severe” interrogation to force “evidence” out of them.

The five men join a group of 37 other Christians detained this month in a series of arrests across Iran of Christians involved in the country’s burgeoning house-church movement, according to human rights and religious freedom advocacy groups.



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