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Christians in Isfahan face increasing pressure and arrests

(16 March 2012) -- According to reports received in recent weeks by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), security agents from the Isfahan intelligence office in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) arrested several adherents to the Christian faith in Isfahan in a pre-planned raid on Wednesday, February 22, 2012. The targeted individuals were arrested separately in their houses and then transferred to an undisclosed location.

Sources close to IHRDC confirm that Giti Afrouz Hakimpour, a 78 year old Christian woman, was one of the individuals arrested in the raid.  Hakimpour, who lives alone, had her house raided by security agents on February 22, at 6 AM.  The agents searched Hakimpour’s house for three hours and seized a large number of her personal belongings, including her passport, bank documents,  her pension book,  the deed to her house, vehicle title, Bibles and other religious literature, her computer and mobile phone, documents she had translated, her driver’s license, personal correspondence, and other items. After the agents concluded their search, they transferred Hakimpour to the Isfahan intelligence office, located on Hasht-Behesht Street. 

Eye witnesses report that after Hakimpour’s detention, security agents entered her house yet again and proceeded to search through her belongings. After the search, her house looked as if it had been ransacked—furniture was turned upside down, picture frames were pulled off the walls and thrown across the room and drawers and wardrobes had been rifled through. 

Hakimpour is a retired nurse-midwife and nurse supervisor who dedicated many years of public service to the health services section of the Iranian National Oil Institution, located in the city of Abadan and Masjid-Solaiman. Hakimpour comes from a prominent Christian family in Isfahan and is a member of the Episcopal Church of Iran. The Hakimpours are of Jewish ancestry but converted to the Christian faith many years ago. 

Intelligence agents accused Hakimpour of evangelizing people in her own home. However, no court has issued formal charges against her.

On account of her old age and the efforts of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, Hakimpour was released from the Isfahan intelligence office on Saturday, February 25, 2012.  

Since her release, Hakimpour is constantly monitored by security agents. Some of Hakimpour’s friends fear contact with her as they have also been threatened with questioning by security.

Further, before Hakimpour’s arrest, she planned a trip abroad to visit her family and purchased her airfare, but she is now unable to travel.   Her passport and other identification documents have been confiscated, thus, at present, she has no official identity under IRI laws. 

Additionally, since her bank account book and other banking documents have been seized, Hakimpour no longer has access to her bank account.  Therefore she has had to sell some valuables in order to support herself.  It is unclear how long she can sustain herself in this manner.

On the same day as Hakimpour’s arrest, on Wednesday, February 22, security agents in Isfahan also arrested Hekmat Salimi, an Iranian and Farsi speaking Christian pastor and poet.  Salimi was arrested in Fooladshahr town (in Isfahan province); agents confiscated Salimi’s personal belongings and transferred him to an undisclosed location.  Prior to this arrest, Salimi was arrested on several previous occasions for his Christian beliefs, including in a raid by security agents in August 2003. After his arrest in August 2003, he was held in Dastgerd prison in Isfahan for a period of time.

The recent arrests in Isfahan are not limited to the above names.  IHRDC will release more information about these arrests as it is received.     

The Iranian authorities’ arrests and treatment of Hakimpour and Salimi directly violate numerous provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the IRI is a signatory.  Specifically, the Iranian government’s actions in these cases contravene Article 9 (individual freedom and security), Article 12 (freedom of movement), and Article 18 (freedom of religion and belief) of the ICCPR, and accordingly it is in violation of its international obligations and commitments.