By Worthy News Middle East Service with reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)-- Iran's government has ordered one of the country's largest Protestant churches to halt Friday services, while a pastor remains detained for protesting plans to "impose the reading of the Koran" on Christian children, Worthy News monitored Monday, November 9.
Under "extreme pressure" from the Ministry of Information, Friday services of the Assemblies of God Churches can no longer be held at the Central Church in Iran's capital Tehran, said Reverend Sourik, the overseer of the church in a statement.
Authorities reportedly threatened to completely shut down the Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, unless it stopped holding Friday services by October 31.
"The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service," reported the Farsi Christian News Network, which has close ties with Iranian Christians.
Throughout the Middle East, Christians often gather for worship on Friday as many have the day off. "The believers of this church, which has been holding two Friday services since the 1960s, will find it difficult to attend Sunday services as Sunday is not a day off for many, as it is in the West," said advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) in a reaction.
News of the apparent crackdown on services came as Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remained detained following his arrest in the small province of Guilan, according to Iranian Christians. He was arrested October 12 after he protested against the decision by local authorities to "impose the reading of the Koran on Christian children," Christians said.
Pastor Nadarkhani reportedly insisted that the demand violates Article 26 of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights, which Iran signed, as it states: "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
VOMC, which closely monitored the case, told Worthy News that authorities told the pastor he went too far with this protest. "Not happy with the fact that we tolerate you, you pushed too far your boldness by refusing that your children follow Koranic courses," they apparently stated. "At last report, Pastor Nadarkhani remained in detention," VOMC said.
There has been growing government pressure on active Christians and Christian converts in Iran, a strictly Islamic nation, according to churches, rights groups and other observers.
Several other Christians have also been detained, including two young women, who converted from Islam to Christianity, and may face execution or at least life imprisonment, trial observers said.
Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, and Maryam Rustampoor, 27, were detained in March for practicing Christianity after authorities raided and confiscated materials from their home.
Authorities reportedly also accused them of "engaging in anti-government activities" but that charge was dropped during an unexpected hearing at the Revolutionary Court last month. Iranian Christians have expressed concerns about the women, who have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.