An Iranian convert to Christianity arrested on unspecified charges has been released on bail just days after his family was told he would be detained indefinitely.
Mohammed Ali Torabi, 39, was ordered to pay 200 million tomans (around US $57,000) to secure his release from prison in Ahvaz, capital of Iran’s western Khuzestan province.
However, Abdol-Ali Pourmand, 38, who belongs to the same ‘house church’, remains in prison in Ahvaz, 150km from their home city of Dezful.
Mohabat News reported earlier this week that both men were forced to sign blank pieces of paper, which could be used as evidence they confessed their crimes or renounced their faith.
Kiaa Aalipour from advocacy organisation Article 18 told World Watch Monitor that Pourmand had also been forced to take part in Islamic prayers.
At the time of their arrests, both men told their families they would soon be released. Pourmand has been married for just three months, one of which he has spent in prison.
Although it remains unclear why the two men were detained, both had Christian material confiscated during raids on their homes, and Aalipour told World Watch Monitor the Iranian government “sees Christian converts as a constant threat to the Islamic identity of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
“The Iranian regime is very fearful of the growth of Christianity in Iran,” he said. “If more and more Iranians convert to Christianity, the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, which is based on an Islamic theocracy, will be totally lost.”
Christians are thought to make up only around 1 per cent (around 800,000) of Iran’s roughly 80 million people, although precise numbers are difficult to determine. 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. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016 – many of them converts. In recent months, more than a dozen Christians have been sentenced to at least ten years in prison for “acting against national security”.