Abdol-Ali Pourmand and Mohammed Ali Torabi (Mohabat News/Article 18)

Two Iranian converts to Christianity arrested last month in the western city of Dezful have been told they will be kept in prison until further notice.

Mohabat News reports that Abdol-Ali Pourmand, 38, and Mohammed Ali Torabi, 39, who are both members of the same ‘house church’ – Payam-e Aramesh (Message of Peace) – have also been 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 has 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.

Neither man is thought to have been told under what charges they are being detained, preventing them from hiring proper legal representation, according to Mohabat News.

Aalipour told World Watch Monitor in August that 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”.