Iran: 50 Christians Temporarily Arrested in Christmas Raid

Tehran, Iran -- Iranian government forces began a coordinated and pre-planned raid during a meeting of Iranian Christians celebrating Christmas last week, during which many were arrested and detained, including an Armenian pastor.

Mohabat News says that while many Christians around the world rejoiced and celebrated Christmas in their churches, the Islamic Republic of Iran “began its annual campaign of terror and fear through its security forces.”

According to reports received by Mohabat News, on Thursday, Dec. 27, while approximately 50 newly converted Christians had gathered at a residential home in the northern district of Tehran to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the occasion of Christmas, the government security forces began a coordinated and pre-planned raid that resulted in the immediate on-the-spot arrest and several hours of interrogation of all individuals present.

Mohabat News says this incident resulted in the arrest and detention of Rev. Vruir Avanessian, an officially ordained pastor of Armenian descent, whose whereabouts and condition remains unknown at this time.

On its website, Mohabat News says sources have reported that approximately 15 plain-clothes police and security officers, in a well-orchestrated and coordinated plan, “being fully aware and informed of this celebration by our Christian citizens, entered the home of the host of this special gathering, claiming to be acting on a complaint by neighbors regarding the noise level, began to arrest all the guests. Once in the house, the security officers, who were fully aware of the nature of this gathering, ordered everyone to be quiet and cooperate with the officers and no one was allowed to leave the house."

Attendees Interrogated Using Previously Prepared Forms

Mohabat News says that once the security forces realized how many people were assembled there and that it would not be feasible to transport everyone to a facility nearby, they began distributing specially prepared interrogation forms and required everyone to answer every question completely including their full name, home address and other contact information. Also, they were asked to provide their email, Facebook, and other social media ID and passwords.

The Mohabat News report says: “It has been reported that these forms contained questions regarding the manner in which they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, their connection to house-churches, their recent travels to other countries for the purpose of visiting and fellowshipping with other Christians, their core beliefs and why they had abandoned Islam, and their personal and political views about the Islamic Republic of Iran and the foreign policies of the regime.”

The report said: “It must be mentioned that the security forces were acting with some degree of respect and calm demeanor while insisting that everyone should be completely honest in answering all the questions on the form. Finally, some of the officers began to collect all cellphones and reminded everyone that once their investigation was complete they would be summoned to the security branch of the area to get their cellphones back and be dealt with individually.”

Armenian Pastor Rev. Vruir Avanessian Arrested

Mohabat News says that among the guests at this Christmas celebration was Rev. Vruir Avanessian, an officially ordained Christian pastor of Armenian descent. The security officers took him away to an unknown location and because of his state of health there is much concern about his well-being.

Mohabat News stated: “This report indicates that after the raid by security officers and while everyone was being held at the location of the gathering in Northern Tehran, some of the officers proceeded to the home of Rev. Avanessian, where they conducted a separate raid of his residence.

“While his wife was being held by the security forces and in presence of his children, they ransacked the house and confiscated books, Bibles, a personal computer, CDs, worship tapes and music albums Rev. Avanesian had sung/composed himself,” the news agency reported.

Concerns and Worry about the Health of Rev. Avanessian

According to Mohabat News, Rev. Avanessian, who is approximately 60 years old, is an Armenian Christian. In his youth, he was one of the more well-known pop singers in the Armenian community of Iran.

“Through divine intervention he was miraculously saved in the late 70s and dedicated his musical talents and voice to the cause of Christ and recorded many songs and albums that told his life story and how Jesus had so powerfully saved him. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, he entered the service of Church as worship leader and published Christian books through ‘Eternal Life’ publishers,” Mohabat News said.

The news agency said Rev. Avanessian continued his ministry as the worship leader of the Assemblies of God Church in Tehran. He was a gifted musician and singer who composed and introduced many of the current songs of the church.

“He has produced several Christian musical albums in the Farsi and Armenian languages which have been released and published world-wide for all Farsi-speaking and Armenian churches,” Mohabat reported.

Avanessian was also a member of the council of elders of the church and later was appointed as the pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in the suburb of Narmak, a mainly Armenian populated district of Tehran.

After more than 17 years of service and ministry to the Lord Jesus and His church, Pastor Avanessian retired from active service. He suffers from serious heart disease and diabetes which has caused him to almost completely lose his voice and his kidney functions.

“This talented and dedicated artist has lost his ability to sing to his Lord and requires dialysis every other day,” Mohabat News stated.

Mohabat News continued: “The irony of this incident which resulted in the arrest and detention of this frail and ill servant of God, is that due to his kidney disease he requires special medical care. Every two days he must report to a dialysis clinic in order to have his blood cleansed from all the toxins that are produced and circulate in his body. Without proper care and ongoing dialysis, Pastor Avanessian will soon succumb to blood poisoning and die. His wife and children are extremely worried that the security forces will not pay close attention to his medical needs and this would threaten his health.”

Mohabat News went on to say that the Armenian community inside and outside of Iran and all Farsi-speaking churches world-wide “are holding the security organization and the Islamic Republic of Iran responsible for the safety and well-being of Rev. Avanessian and are demanding that responsible authorities look into this matter and provide all necessary medical and other needed treatments to Rev. Avanessian and arrange for his speedy release from detention.”

The news agency explained that according to Article 13 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, religious minorities such as Armenians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are the only recognized religious minorities and so are free to worship and live according to their faith and beliefs.

“Every year since the 1979 revolution, and especially in the last three years, with the arrival of the Christmas season, celebrations by the Iranian Christians of all racial backgrounds have been overtaken by a campaign of fear and terror, it said.

Mohabat News concluded by commenting that although there have been fewer reports of overt persecution of Christians in 2012, especially of former Muslims who have become Christians, “one might assume that the prevailing atmosphere of repression has somewhat subsided. However, the news coming from inside Iran indicates the opposite and clearly shows that the authorities responsible for internal security continue to restrict and limit the manner and degree of celebrations that Iranian Christians are permitted to have as they celebrate the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ.”