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Iran Still Holding House Church Leader

Authorities demand heavy bail payments for arrested leaders’ release.

by Peter Lamprecht

ISTANBUL, January 4 (Compass Direct News) – All but one Iranian house church leader arrested for “evangelization” in a coordinated sweep of four cities last month were released by last week.

Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani is still in police custody in Tehran , where officials are holding him on the pretext that he must pay an outstanding debt, one source said.

Members of the group raised a 30,000-euro (US$39,743) bail for the release of two other leaders held in Tehran last week but paid smaller amounts to free members in the cities of Karaj , Rasht and Bandar-i Anzali, the source said.

Iranian police began arresting the house church leaders from their homes in the early morning hours of December 10. According to one source, officials accused them of evangelization and actions against the national security of Iran .

Tehran officials continue to hold Sadegh-Khandjani on grounds that he has not paid off debts incurred in an uninsured rental car crash two years ago, one source said. According to the source, secret police have encouraged the owner of the rental company to pursue demands for reimbursement.

Tehran leader Hamid Reza Toluinia was reportedly freed on Christmas Day after his father presented officials with the title deed to a house. Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani’s sister, Shirin was freed two days later, though Compass sources remained unsure how her 30,000-euro bail was paid.

Rasht city authorities freed Yousef Nadarkhani, Parviz Khalaj and Muhammad Reza-Taghizadeh within two weeks of their arrest, agreeing to accept “work charters” (employment permission) for their bail.

Karaj city officials also accepted work charters as bail, freeing Bahman Irani on December 14 and releasing Behnam Irani and Peyman Salarvand the following week.

His arrest previously unreported, Karaj group member Muhammad Beliad was set free last week.

Seyed Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, the only member of the group known to have been arrested in Bandar-i Anzali, was released on December 14.

Holocaust Conference

One house church member disavowed reports that group leaders had been arrested for their opposition to a controversial Iranian conference that questioned the existence of the Holocaust.

A December 14 report by Adnkronos International news service stated that congregation members suspected the reason for their arrest was “criticism of the government-sponsored conference.” The arrests immediately preceded the beginning of the conference.

“It is true that we do not accept the [denial of the Holocaust],” said a house church member. “But a lot of Iranian intellectuals reject the revisionism too, and they were not arrested.”

An indigenous house church movement, the group of approximately 600 people describes itself as a nondenominational Christian community of “free evangelicals,” although Iranian evangelicals question some of the group’s unorthodox doctrines, including rejection of the Trinity.

While several of the group’s leaders were still in jail, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a rare acknowledgement of Iran ’s Christians on Christmas Eve, wishing them “joy, health and a year full of blessings and love.”

The gesture came a day after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution sanctioning Iran for continuing a uranium enrichment program that could be used to produce bombs.

Over the past year, Iran ’s harsh Islamic regime has targeted various Christian groups known to use literature and other means to spread their faith among the majority Shiite Muslim population.

In at least eight known incidents this year, former Muslims who had converted to Christianity were arrested and held in custody for several weeks before being released. In most cases, they were forced to pay large bail amounts and told their cases remained open for possible criminal prosecution.

Under Iran ’s strict apostasy laws, any Muslim who leaves Islam to embrace another religion faces the death penalty.