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Iran’s Secret Police Arrest Long-Time Convert

Christian held under interrogation in northern Iran for past three weeks.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, May 22 (Compass Direct) – An Iranian Christian who converted from Islam 33 years ago is under arrest and interrogation in northern Iran, where secret police have held him incommunicado for the past three weeks.

Ali Kaboli, 51, was taken into custody on May 2 from his workshop in Gorgan, capital of Iran ’s northern province of Golestan. With the exception of one brief telephone call, he has been refused contact with any visitors.

To date no charges have been filed against Kaboli, who has been threatened in the past with legal prosecution for holding “illegal” religious meetings in his home. He could also be charged for converting to Christianity, which under Iran ’s apostasy laws calls for the death penalty.

Since Kaboli’s arrest three weeks ago, a number of the Christians attending Kaboli’s house-church have been called in by the police and questioned, one by one.

Kaboli is married with five grown children; his family has declined to comment on the situation.

A carpenter by trade, Kaboli has for decades hosted house church meetings in his home, which was once burned down by unidentified arsonists. Much of his spare time has been spent as an itinerant evangelist, leading small meetings for worship, Bible study and discipleship in various towns and cities along the Caspian Sea coast.

He has been threatened, arrested and interrogated numerous times for his Christian activities. Twelve years ago, he received verbal threats that he was an apostate who should be killed.

More than once local police have ordered him for months to stay within the city limits of Gorgan and sign in daily at police headquarters.

“Everyone knew that his house was under control [police surveillance] for many years,” an Iranian Christian now living abroad said. “They even pushed him to leave the country about three years ago, but he told them he preferred to stay inside the country, even if it meant living in an Iranian jail.”

“He loves Jesus very much,” said an Iranian pastor who has known Kaboli since his conversion to Christ as a teenager in Tehran . Another Christian added: “And he is very bold.”

Relentless Intimidation

According to outside observers close to the mushrooming Protestant house church movement inside Iran, local authorities and police interrogators in the Golestan and Mazandaran provinces of northern Iran have been “notoriously difficult” for their tough stance against converts to Christianity.

Six months ago, another Muslim convert to Christianity was stabbed to death in nearby Gonbad-e-Kavus, 60 miles from Gorgan. The body of Ghorban Dordi Tourani, 53, was thrown in front of his home a few hours after he was arrested from his home on November 22, 2005.

Since last year’s election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian authorities have ratcheted up their pressures against the handful of remaining Protestant congregations still allowed to meet in official church buildings.

Nearly two years ago, local Protestant denominations had been ordered to cut their ties with any house church groups meeting throughout the country. Government officials warned that such fellowships were holding “illegal religious meetings” and would be duly prosecuted.

Since then, church leaders have been under relentless intimidation to compromise with government investigators by providing the names of their members, particularly any who are converts from Islam.

“So they must either give the police these names, or resign from pastoral ministry – or give up and leave the country,” one Iranian Christian told Compass. “Well actually,” he continued, “there is a fourth alternative: they can go to prison.”

It was lay pastor Hamid Pourmand’s refusal to compromise his Christian faith that landed him in jail in September 2004. Another long-term convert from Islam, the former army colonel is serving a three-year jail term at Tehran ’s Evin Prison for allegedly “concealing” his conversion to Christianity from the Iranian military.