Grandfather with cancer among four Christians arrested in Neyshabur

Grandfather with cancer among four Christians arrested in Neyshabur

A grandfather in his late fifties who has cancer is one of four Christian converts still detained more than three weeks after their arrest at a house-church gathering in a conservative Shia Muslim region of northeast Iran.

Gholamreza Keyvanmanesh is being held in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, a holy city for Shiites, two hours’ drive from Neyshabur, where the arrests took place on Sunday 26 June.

The other three – two women and another man in their forties and fifties, whose names cannot be reported – are being held in Neyshabur Prison.

Article18 understands the four Christians are facing charges of “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy).

At least another eight Christians were also present at the meeting and though they were not detained by the arresting agents – members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who are becoming ever more frequently involved in arrests of Christians – they were told to soon expect a summons for further questioning.

They were also forced to sign commitments to refrain from gathering with other Christians. 

Bibles and mobile phones were among the items confiscated from the church members.

Little more is known about what took place, though there have been suggestions that other members of the church who were not present at the meeting, and family members who have tried to follow up their cases with the IRGC, have also been threatened with detention.

It has also been reported elsewhere that the three Christians being held in Neyshabur have been told they will be detained for at least two months.

While Iran claims to provide religious freedom for its citizens, including Christians, who are among the recognised minority faiths in Iran, converts to Christianity are not recognised as Christians and are instead vilified and labelled members of “enemy groups of a ‘Zionist’ cult”.

Converts are banned from attending the churches of Armenian and Assyrian Christians, who are themselves only permitted to teach in their own ethnic tongues and not to seek new members.

Converts therefore meet together in private residences, but these are frequently raided and members charged with belonging to “illegal” groups with “anti-security” purposes, even though in reality the meetings are no different from church gatherings anywhere else in the world.

In recent years, dozens of Iranian Christians have been handed prison sentences of up to 15 years on such trumped-up charges.