Iranian Police Arrest Christian Pastor

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Wife and teenage children also jailed.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, May 26 (Compass) -- Iranian police arrested a Protestant Christian pastor in northern Iran three days ago, jailing him along with his wife and two teenage children.

Pastor Khosroo Yusefi and his wife Nasrin were arrested on May 23 in Chalous, a town along the Caspian Sea coast in Mazanderan province. Together with their 18-year-old son and a daughter age 15, they remain imprisoned without known charges.

Today sources in Iran confirmed to Compass that the Yusefi family, together with four other local Christians arrested three weeks ago, have been moved to an unknown prison location outside Chalous.

“The police have found out that people have come to Christ in that city, that’s all,” an Iranian Christian told Compass. “We don’t know whether somebody was spying on them, or what. The only thing we know is that they arrested them.”

Pastor Yusefi is responsible for overseeing a number of unregistered Assemblies of God congregations in northern Iran. Now in their late 40s, Yusefi and his wife were members of the Baha’i religion before they came to faith in Christ nearly 20 years ago.

Reportedly dozens of believers from two of Yusefi’s church groups were arrested and jailed in the first week of May, when police threatened and beat them for refusing to renounce their Christian faith. The majority of these Christians meeting in secret house-church groups are former Muslims.

“They caught so many of them that the whole congregation was stopped in all their activities,” a source confirmed to Compass.

Last week most of these Christian prisoners were released, although police announced that four of the group’s “key persons” would remain imprisoned.

Local sources could not confirm how the jailed Christians had been treated while in custody, although a spokesman told Compass, “If they didn’t hit them and torture them, it would be very unusual. It’s normal for the police to do that.”

Some church members have expressed fears that severe treatment could be particularly difficult for Yusefi’s wife, who underwent considerable trauma as a teenager during the Iranian revolution, when many of her Baha’i relatives and friends were killed.

“During these last few months, it was scary for Khosroo and Nasrin,” the source said, noting they had been called in to the police many times, and at least twice fled their city to avoid arrest. “Now that they have arrested them, and especially with the children, she is even more under pressure.”

Credible reports have come in from northern Iran since the beginning of 2004, documenting the arrests of a large number of individual Christian converts in the region. But Sunday’s arrest marks the first time that the entire family of a Christian leader has been taken into custody.

Church leaders in Tehran have refused to comment on the case.

According to the U.S. State Department’s most recent religious freedom report on Iran, the government creates a particularly “threatening atmosphere” against “some religious minorities, especially Bahai’s, Jews and evangelical Christians.”

“The government vigilantly enforces its prohibition on proselytizing activities by evangelical Christians by closing evangelical churches and arresting converts,” the report noted. Under the Islamic republic’s strict laws, conversion from Islam to another faith is punishable by death.