Three Christian men, Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, Davood (David) Ali-Jani and Naser Zamen-Dezfuli, remain in detention after their arrest on Dec. 23, 2011, at an Assemblies of God (AOG) church in Ahwaz, Iran. The pastor’s wife, Shahnaz Jizan, was also arrested and held until Jan. 1, when her $200,000 bail was paid.
The families have not been told where the men are being held or what condition they are in, and officials have said they know nothing about the arrests. Authorities did, however, tell the families not to contact international media.
The AOG church was raided at 11 a.m. during its regular Friday service by a “large number of hooded security agents,” according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN). The agents reportedly arrived in unmarked vehicles, closing shops and blocking all traffic in the area. They arrested everyone present, including children, and they confiscated Christian literature, computers, audiovisual equipment and cell phones. Men, women and children were then forced to run a “gauntlet of hooded, obscenity-screaming agents” to reach awaiting buses.
The approximately 45 Christians were taken to a school that had been carefully prepared as an interrogation center, according to FCNN. Males and females were separated into classrooms that were used as holding cells.
Except for the three men and the pastor’s wife, all were released after they signed confessions and pledges of non-activity — promises not to practice Christianity. Church members were told to stay in the city and were warned that they could be rearrested at any time.
Pastor Sabokrouh and his wife are not former Muslims, so they cannot be charged with apostasy. However, Pastor Sabokrouh has been detained several times in the past and warned not to allow Muslim converts into his church. Ali-Jani and Zamen-Dezfuli are former Muslims who converted to Christianity many years ago. They could potentially face the same fate as Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who received a death sentence for apostasy.
The Assemblies of God denomination has existed in Iran since before the 1979 revolution. The church in Ahwaz is an official and long-established church whose members are mainly former Mandeans, a sect that reveres John the Baptist and Adam as teachers.