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Church in Iran closed over refusal to st...

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Church in Iran closed over refusal to stop services in Farsi

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iran

A church in Iran that has refused to stop holding services in the national language, Farsi, has been closed following the arrest of one of its leaders.

The Rev. Robert Aserian was detained on 21 May
The Rev. Robert Aserian was detained on 21 May

The Central Assemblies of God (AoG) Church in Tehran was raided during a prayer meeting on 21 May. The Rev. Robert Aserian was detained and taken to an unknown location; the church building was searched, and books, documents and equipment seized.

Before going to the church, the security forces had raided the minister's home and confiscated items including his computer and books.

On 23 May, State Security agents returned to the site and ordered the caretaker to put up a sign stating that the church was now closed.

It has been under mounting pressure to shut for some time over its refusal to stop services in the Iranian national language, Farsi, which are accessible to Muslims and converts from Islam.

One local source said:

The pressure has become unbearable. They constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.

The church elders were expecting a move from the authorities after they requested, a few days before the raid, information about Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, who leads an Assemblies of God church in Ahwaz, and his wife Shahnaz Jeizan. On 1 May, an appeal court had upheld the one year prison sentence issued to the couple in October 2012 following their arrest on 23 December 2011.

The elders were told that if the Central AoG Church closed voluntarily, the couple might be released. But they refused to give in.

The Central AoG Church has been under close surveillance for many years, and a number of its members have been killed.

Its activities have been greatly restricted over the last few years in particular. In 2009, the church was banned from holding services in Farsi on Fridays, an order that was recently extended to their Sunday services also.

Discipleship classes run on Saturdays for new Christians have also been closed down.

The Assemblies of God Church in Iran began in 1955 as a single house church in Tehran. It has since planted a number of congregations in the capital and then across the country.

 

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