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Crackdown on Christians intensifies as elections near.
ICC Note: A pastor in Tehran was arrested last week while conducting a prayer service in Iran’s capital. This comes as just another arrest as Iran continues to crack down on churches across the country. Many Christian leaders are becoming fearful of this crackdown, saying the government has threatened them with imprisonment, torture and even execution. Several other Christian pastors remain imprisoned in Iran which remains one of the most hostile places towards Christians in the world. 
5/24/2013 Iran (Morning Star News) – Security forces this week arrested an Iranian pastor in Tehran and announced that his church was closed as a crackdown on Christians intensified ahead of June elections, sources said.
Robert Asserian was arrested Tuesday (May 21) during a prayer meeting at his Central Assemblies of God Church after authorities entered his house and confiscated his computer, books, and other belongings, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN) reported today that agents of the Revolutionary Guard arrived the following day and announced that the church was closed for the foreseeable future, although that was not independently confirmed.
A church leader has notified the congregation that services on Sunday have been cancelled, according to FCNN.
Khataza Gondwe, Africa and Middle East director for CSW, told Morning Star News that the use of the Persian language (Farsi) in sermons at the church, which includes Iranians who have converted from Islam and Judaism, makes it a particular target for the government.
“The government’s main concern or fear is that Muslim Farsi speakers may attend and convert, hence the pressure to close Farsi services,” she said.
There has been a heavy crackdown on Christianity in Iran in the past year. Analysts believe that authorities have been particularly heavy-handed in light of the upcoming presidential election.
“With the June 2013 presidential election approaching, the Iranian government will likely increase its efforts to crush any form of dissent and scapegoat religious minorities, as it has done in the past,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom notes in its annual report, released last month.
Asserian was held at an unknown location on unspecified charges.
The arrest comes after the congregation discussed on Sunday (May 19) whether the church would close. Leaders have complained of constant harassment from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry due to the church’s sermons being held in Farsi instead of the languages of Iran’s ethnic Christian minorities. Authorities have reportedly threatened church leaders with imprisonment, kidnapping and death.

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