By BosNewsLife News Center
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife) -- Iranâ€™s feared secret police have detained a Christian couple in the northeastern city of Mashhad, forcing them to leave behind their 6-year-old daughter, a Christian news agency reported late Friday, September 29.
Plainclothes policemen demanded entrance into the apartment home of Reza Montazami, 35, and his wife Fereshteh Dibaj, 28, early September 26, said Compass Direct News.
The coupleâ€™s computers and various other personal items were confiscated, along with all the Christian literature in the house, the news agency said.
Montazami reportedly 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 apparently taken away in an unmarked car.
After days of searching, family members were allegedly told by officials of a local intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that they were holding the couple there for questioning.
The officials refused reportedly gave no reasons for the arrest.Montazamiâ€™s family returned Wednesday morning at the IRGC headquarters but officials sent them home early in the afternoon. "They have given no reason why they have arrested them,â€ an unidentified uncle of the detained husband was quoted as saying. â€œBut please tell people to pray. We believe in the power of prayer."
In published remarks, officials say that interrogations continue with documents being prepared on the â€œexact chargesâ€ against them. Authorities also informed Montazamiâ€™s elderly parents Thursday, September 28, that their son and his wife were scheduled to appear before a Revolutionary Court tribunal later at 1600 hours local time.
The parents arrived at the court by 15:30 on Thursday, September 28, 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, said Compass Direct News.
Since Iranian courts are closed on Fridays, the family was told to come back for a â€œpossibleâ€ trial on Saturday. It comes at a time when Christians in predominantly Muslim nations including Iran and neighboring Iraq are on edge following controversial comments made by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam.
It was not clear whether the arrests were fuelled by anger over the comments. "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. â€œIt is psychological warfare, to keep their families uncertain and try to make them afraid.â€
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 killed for his faith 12 years ago, Compass Direct News said.
A Christian for 45 years, Dibaj spent over 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 Fereshtehâ€™s birthday party, Christians said.
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 Iranâ€™s Islamic revolution in 1976.
Both churches were closed by government order in the 1980s. 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 what human rights watchers describe as â€œextreme physical and psychological mistreatment in prison.â€
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, Compass Direct News said.
Considered Iranâ€™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. (With reports from Iran).
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