Four Iranian Christian converts were arrested by police last week in Karaj, a city 52 km west of the capital Tehran.
A spokesman for advocacy organisation Article 18, Kiaa Aalipour, said that “Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were all arrested by security forces on Tuesday, December 12, in Karaj”.
According to the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Farda, security forces raided six houses while a meeting was taking place, and also sealed off two shops owned by two of those arrested, on charges of ‘overcharging’, ‘profiteering’ and ‘breaking guild regulations’.
The government’s official news agency, IRNA, reportedly said that “elements of a devious Christian cult who were promoting it and attempting to disrupt the market and economic order have been arrested”.
Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that the four men are being held in an unknown location but have informed their families of their well-being.
Amin Khaki, one of those arrested, had previously been in prison for a year for spreading Christianity in Iran.
In May 2010 he was arrested on charges of anti-government activity and given a one year suspended sentence that was then suspended for five years, according to MEC.
Khaki, with Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani, was arrested again during a group picnic in March 2014 and released on bail later in January 2015. Khaki claims he was badly beaten during this time while held in Ahvaz prison, south-western Iran.
After a court hearing in May, Khaki and the others received a one-year sentence for spreading Christianity in Iran in October 2015, which was confirmed following an appeal hearing in February 2016.
However, the defendants were not immediately summoned to prison. In June 2016, all four presented themselves at Ahvaz Prison again to serve the remainder of their sentences.
However, Khaki was released after a few weeks, and told he did not need to serve his previous suspended sentence of one year (in addition to his more recent sentence). His three companions stayed to serve the remaining four months of their one-year sentence.
Kiaa Aalipour told World Watch Monitor earlier that the Iranian government “sees Christian converts as a constant threat to the Islamic identity of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
The Christmas holidays in particular tend to be a time where more raids on Christians and Christian converts take place than in the rest of the year.
In 2016 at least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran, while a rash of harsh jail sentences followed in mid-2017 – mainly of converts to Christianity, each sentenced to ten years or more.
The country is eighth on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.