Authorities Launch New Wave of Arrests, Violence in Past 10 Days
ISTANBUL, July 30 (Compass Direct News) – A diabetic Iranian Christian jailed for two months is in critical condition due to lack of medical treatment, even as new reports of arrests against Christians surfaced this week.
The Iranian government has ratcheted up pressure in the last two weeks on underground churches in what seems to be a concerted effort to hound Christians and discourage their meetings throughout the country, sources told Compass.
At the same time, friends of imprisoned Christians Mahmood Matin, 52, and Arash Bandari, 44, a diabetic, are eagerly waiting for a phone call from authorities this week that would secure their release even if it means paying bail. Both prisoners have become frail from more than two months in prison, but the condition of Bandari is critical.
Converts to Christianity, Matin and Bandari were arrested on May 15 on suspicion of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam.
To complicate matters, a draft bill of an “apostasy law,” which would bind judges to sentence to death Muslim converts to Christianity, makes their immediate release crucial, say experts.
After two months of solitary confinement at a secret police detention center known by its address, Sepah Street 100, located in the center of Shiraz, Matin and Bandari were placed in a cell together around July 15, sources told Compass. The absence of any medical treatment, however, has taken its toll on Bandari.
Matin, who secured a few minutes of time with his wife on July 22 in order to get toiletries, said that Bandari’s health was declining rapidly with the lack of treatment and proper care.
“He is severely ill; he’s not doing well,” confirmed a source.
Matin has lost much weight and is said to look weak, though he was not allowed to talk about his condition and treatment in the prison, where he has been held with Bandari since their arrest.
On July 22 a lawyer agreed to take up Matin’s case and ask for his release. It is not clear yet if Bandari will receive legal counsel from the same lawyer. Matin’s lawyer expressed concern about the length of time the two prisoners have been held without charges and said that the clock is ticking against them.
“They have to get out as soon as possible, or else the case will be heavier, and it will be more difficult to get them out,” a friend of the family told Compass. Experts on Iran explained that it is crucial for the prisoners to be released before they appear in court. Lower level police often arrest Christians to extort money from them and release them with no charges. But if a case goes to court, charges are pressed against the Christians, who are then at the mercy of religious judges.
“Once the case is decided and the court has made a decision, it would be hard for them to get out,” said a source. The apostasy bill under discussion, if passed, would mean certain death if Bandari and Matin were charged with apostasy.
Christians in Iran are fasting and praying in hopes that the two men will be freed soon.
“We don’t know, in the first place, why they have been kept so long, we don’t know what the charges are,” said one friend of the family.
The friend called for the churches to pray that any false accusations be lifted, “and for protection, because we don’t know exactly what’s happening inside. We don’t know how they’re being treated.”
Most other imprisoned Christians in Iran have been released with bail. Bandari and Matin are two of three Christians known to be still held in prison.
The third, Mohsen Radfar, was arrested while traveling to Tehran on July 12. His whereabouts and condition are unknown. Radfar, from the province of Kerman in central Iran, is a well-known film director in the region and has worked as a theater and cinema critic.
News Wave of Arrests
The same day Radfar was arrested, police got word that 12 Christians would be traveling to Armenia via Tehran and arrested them at the Kerman airport in south-central Iran as they were trying to leave.
Although the 12 Christians were freed the same night, sources reported that their houses were searched and that police confiscated all Christian materials.
In the past 10 days, Iran’s Christians have reported a wave of arrests in four cities. Christians attending house churches in Bandar Abbas on the southern coast, in Isfahan 334 kilometers (207 miles) south of Tehran, and in Sanandaj and Kermanshah on the Iraqi border were arrested. Sources told Compass that Christians in these cities were held anywhere from one day to a week by the government.
“So that means maybe the government has started a mission again against Christian activity,” said a source. “They’ve started a new strategy probably. Because it is not just an accident that all this is happening in different cities at the same time; they had worked on it before, and they planned to move against house churches.”
On Saturday (July 26), secret police raided a service in Isfahan. Among 16 Christians arrested were six women and two children under the age of 18. They are being held in an undisclosed location, reported Farsi Christian News Network.
During the raid, police beat the elderly couple hosting the meeting so severely that they were taken to the Sharieti Hospital with injuries.
Report from Compass Direct News