Date: July 22, 2016
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Relatives and friends say three Azeri Christians and an Iranian Christian remain behind bars in Tehran, nearly a month after they were detained as part of a larger government-backed crackdown on evangelicals. Seperately, Iranian authorities released Amin Khaki from Ahvaz Prison, after he served part of a one-year sentence for "spreading Christianity" in this strict Islamic nation, supporters told BosNewsLife.
Those detained in the latest known anti-Christian raids by security forces in Iran were identified as Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov from the "Word of Life" Church in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Iranian Christian detained with them on June 24, was not immediately named.
The Christians were taken into police custody after security agents raided an engagement party in Tehran, said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
"Initially about ten people were arrested, but most were soon released. However Eldar, Yusif, Bahram and an Iranian Christian were taken away and remain in detention. Their [exact] whereabouts are unknown," MEC added.
"Since their arrest the Azeri detainees have been able to contact their families once or twice. They are being kept in solitary confinement, and consular officials from the Azerbaijan Embassy in Tehran have not been allowed to see them," thr group said.
Eldar, a youth pastor and missions director, reportedly said that he believes they were "set up and caught in a trap." So far no charges have been brought against the detainees, but Iranian authorities often launch criminal proceedings against devoted Christians involved in house churches or evangelism.
"Their families and friends are obviously very concerned about the situation," MEC stressed, adding that family members and other supporters of the detained Christians have urged prayers.
Their capture overshadowed "positive news" that "friends of Amin Khaki are delighted" that the Christian man has been released from jail, the group added.
Khaki, along with Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami, Rahman Bahmani and four others were forcibly taken away by security forces during a picnic in the western city of Shush in March 2014, several sources said.
They each received a sentence of one year in prison "for spreading Christianity" in Iran, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Following a re-trial on February 1 this year, sentences were upheld but the defendants were not immediately summoned to prison, trial observers said.
"Last month all four Christians presented themselves at Ahvaz Prison to serve the remainder of their sentences. However, last week Amin was released, and he does not need to serve a previous suspended sentence of one year in addition to the most recent sentence, MEC told BosNewsLife.
Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani have reportedly four months left of their sentences to serve.
MEC said it has urged supporters to pray that "the three Azeris and the Iranian Christian will be released soon, and that God will bring peace and comfort to them and their families."
The group explained in an alert that it is also praying that "No charges will be brought against the four men, and that officials from the Azerbaijan Embassy will be allowed to see them."
MEC, which is in close contact with Christians, said it was also to pray for the just released Amin Khaki that he "will adjust well to his freedom and...no new charges will be brought against him" and that "Hossein, Mohammad and Rahman will also be released, or know God's peace as they serve the remainder of their sentences."
The group said it still prays that "all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him," though Iranian government authorities have expressed concern about the spread of Christianity among Muslims. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).