Iranian Christian refugees’ families targeted by intelligence agency

Iranian Christian refugees’ families targeted by intelligence agency

Vahid Roufegarbashi, known as Nathan, with his wife Mahsa and their three-year-old son Benjamin (Photo: Article18)

An Iranian Christian couple now living as refugees in America are concerned for their families back home after both were targeted by the intelligence service.

Vahid Roufegarbashi, who is known as Nathan, and his wife Mahsa, both of whom are 31 years old, resettled in the US in March 2017.

Six years earlier, in July 2011, Nathan was arrested for handing out Christian literature in a village in north-western Iran, near his home city of Tabriz. He was released 38 days later on a bail equivalent to $18,000 and fled the country just ten days later, having been informed that the Tehran branch of the Ministry of Intelligence wanted to interrogate him at the city’s notorious Evin Prison about his Internet ministry to other Christians in Iran.

Ever since, with Nathan first living in Turkey and now the US, the intelligence agency has turned its attention towards his family, and also Mahsa’s.

Just five days ago, on 19 August, Nathan’s family received the latest of several “visits” from intelligence agents. 

When the agents realised no-one was home, they called Nathan’s parents from a neighbour’s phone, with the message that they were looking for Nathan and that they wanted him to come back to prison.

The agents added that they had been given permission to come to Nathan’s family home at any time, to search it, and even to break down the door if nobody was home.

Nathan says his parents, both of whom were questioned by border officials after visiting him while he was living in Turkey, are being targeted because of his and Mahsa’s continued role as pastors ministering to Christians in Iran via the Internet.

Speaking to Article18 today, he said: “They’re trying to break my parents’ reputation in the neighbourhood because they come to my parents’ house and all neighbours are watching them – how many times they came.”

He called on Christians around the world to pray for his family, and Mahsa’s.

Mahsa’s father, Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad, was arrested in January at his home in Shiraz, as Article18 reported.  

He was released on bail six days later after posting bail equivalent to $800. The authorities initially demanded five times more but agreed to the smaller sum after he protested.

Esmaeil was charged with “propaganda against the state and insulting the sacred Iranian establishment”.

“I ask the Christian world to pray for my family,” Nathan said. “Because nothing can prevent me from serving the Lord.”

When asked whether the pressure on his family had caused him to question his ongoing ministry, Nathan said: “No, because Jesus said, ‘Anyone who wants to follow me needs to take up their cross and follow me,’ and I know this is my cross.” 

Mahsa added that she and her husband are extremely grateful for the love their families have shown to them, in spite of the ensuing difficulties.

“They just try to be strong, and even sometimes they didn’t tell us about things the intelligence service did to them because they don’t want to bother us,” she said.

Article18 has noted an escalation in the number of reports of harassment against the family members of active Christians by Iran’s security institutions. This worrying trend will be the subject of an upcoming report by Article18.

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