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Iranian Police Arrest Martyred Christian’s Daughter

Medhi Dibaj’s daughter detained with her husband in Mashhad .

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, September 29 (Compass Direct News) – Iranian secret police arrested a Christian couple in the northeastern city of Mashhad three days ago, forcing them to leave behind their 6-year-old daughter and holding them incommunicado ever since.

Plainclothes policemen who declined to identify themselves demanded entrance into the apartment home of Reza Montazami, 35, and his wife Fereshteh Dibaj, 28, at 7 a.m. on Tuesday (September 26).

Claiming they had “permission” from the proper authorities, the men conducted a complete search of the family’s home. The couple’s computers and various other personal items were confiscated, along with all the Christian literature in the house.

When it became clear that both he and his wife were going to be physically detained, Montazami managed to telephone his mother, asking her to come quickly to pick up their daughter Christine.

Shortly after the grandmother arrived, Montazami and his wife were taken away in an unmarked car. When the grandmother went into the apartment to get Christine, she found two men still searching the premises.

Asked where Christine’s parents were being taken, the men named a local police station. But when Montazami’s relatives went to the designated place, the police on duty declared they knew nothing about any such detention.

So the family continued to search and inquire, going from one office to another around the city. Finally near the end of the day, authorities at a local intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) admitted that they were holding the couple there for questioning.

But the officials refused to explain why the two were detained or allow anyone to see them. Instead, they suggested that their relatives come back the following morning, when the officer in charge would be present.

Montazami’s family returned Wednesday morning, trying in vain to find out why the couple had been detained. They kept vigil at the IRGC headquarters until officials there sent them home early in the afternoon. “They have given no reason why they have arrested them,” an uncle of the detained husband said. “But please tell people to pray. We believe in the power of prayer.”

Despite repeated inquiries, officials would only say that interrogations were continuing, with documents being prepared on the “exact charges” against them.

Then yesterday, authorities informed Montazami’s elderly parents that their son and his wife were scheduled to appear before a certain Revolutionary Court tribunal at 4 p.m.

The parents arrived at the court by 3:30 p.m. on Thursday to witness the hearing. But after a two-hour wait, the judge told them he did not know why the police had failed to produce the couple in court for their scheduled hearing. Since Iranian courts are closed on Fridays, the family was told to come back for a “possible” trial on Saturday.

“They are just lying to them,” said one Iranian Christian who himself fled persecution in Iran several years ago for abandoning Islam and becoming a Christian. “It is psychological warfare, to keep their families uncertain and try to make them afraid.”

From a well-known Mashhad family, Montazami converted to Christianity in his 20s. He now goes by the first name Amir among his friends and family.

His wife Fereshteh is the youngest daughter of the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj, an Assemblies of God minister who was martyred for his faith 12 years ago. A Christian for 45 years, Dibaj spent more than nine years in prison, where he was given the death penalty for committing apostasy. A few months after international protests prompted his release, he was abducted and assassinated on the way to his teenage daughter Fereshteh’s birthday party.

Montazami and his wife lead an independent house church in Mashhad, the only known remnant of two active Protestant Christian congregations worshipping in the city before Iran ’s Islamic revolution in 1976.

Both churches were closed by government order in the 1980s. Then in December 1990, the government executed a Mashhad pastor, the Rev. Hussein Soodmand. A former Muslim who had become a Christian 24 years earlier, Soodmand refused to recant his faith after four months under extreme physical and psychological mistreatment in prison.

Since then other converts to Christianity in Mashhad who continued to worship in their homes have been arrested, threatened, booked on apostasy charges and even evicted from their homes by local authorities. Several of these Christian families have fled the country to be granted asylum abroad.

Considered Iran ’s holiest city and a center of Shiite activism, Mashhad is a popular pilgrimage city containing the shrine of the 9th century Imam Ali Reza.