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Arrests of two members of the Immanuel Presbyterian church in Tehran

(11 June 2012) Update: Following the publication of this report on Friday, June 8 it has since been confirmed that Forough Dashtiani has been temporarily released from custody on bail on Thursday, June 7.


(8 June 2012) -- According to sources close to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Mehrdad Sajjadi (34 y/o)—a member of the Board of Trustees of the Immanuel Presbyterian church in Tehran—was arrested along with his wife, Forough Dashtianipour, in late May 2012.  The couple were arrested in their house in Golshahr in Karaj by Iranian security forces and transferred to an undisclosed location. 

Local sources detailed the nature of the arrests to IHRDC: purportedly plainclothes agents raided Mehrdad Sajjadi’s house in Karaj around midnight in the late hours of Thursday May 24, 2012 or early hours of Friday, May 25, 2012. According to eye witnesses, neighbors believed the entry to be the act of thieves and dialed the National Police (or “Police 110”—Iran’s version of emergency services). When the National Police arrived on the scene, they informed the neighbors of Sajjadi that the plainclothes intruders were in fact Intelligence forces. These forces searched Mehrdad Sajjadi’s house for roughly four hours in total—they confiscated some of the personal belongings in the Sajjadi household and eventually transferred Sajjadi, along with his wife, Forough Dashtianipour, to an undisclosed location. Since their arrest, their families have been unable to obtain any information from the authorities about the location of Sajjadi and Dashtianipour and the charges against the couple.  

Mehrdad Sajjadi, a graduate of Agricultural Engineering, converted to Christianity from Islam 16 years ago and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Immanuel Presbyterian church in Tehran. Forough Dashtianipour, whose father was executed in 1984 by the Iranian government on account of his leftist political activity, also converted from Islam to Christianity and serves as a minister in the Immanuel church.

The Immanuel Presbyterian church is located on Niloo Street in Vanak Square in Tehran and is one of the few churches in Tehran permitted to hold church services in Farsi (most services in Tehran are held in the Armenian or Assyrian languages—the languages spoken by the historically Christian populations of Armenians and Assyrians in Iran). Since about four months ago, when the Board of Trustees of the church was forced by the Iranian authorities to switch weekly church services from Fridays to Sundays, the church has been under increasing pressure from Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. The switch from Friday to Sunday service went against the wishes of the Board of Trustees since most members of the church work on Sundays in Iran and therefore cannot participate in church services on Sundays as opposed to Friday—the official weekend holiday in Iran.

At this time, IHRDC does not have information on the exact nature of the charges against Sajjadi and Dashtianipour.  However if these individuals were targeted and arrested on account of their activity with the church, the actions of the Iranian authorities could, among other abuses, potentially be in violation of Article 9 (individual freedom and security), and Article 18 (freedom of religion and belief) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory. 

 

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Christians, Freedom of Religion

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Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tehran Mehrdad Sajjadi & Forough Dashtianipour