Five Christians 'disappeared' in Iran

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Nadarkhani Family/World Watch Monitor)Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani greets his wife Fatemah after his release from prison in September 2012. Like the five Christians arrested Aug. 26, Nadarkhani was accused of spreading Christianity.

TEHRAN (Christian Examiner) – Five Christians arrested by Iranian intelligence officials Aug. 26 have not been heard from since, leading family members to believe they are being tortured for their faith – or worse.

Middle East Concern (MEC), which monitors violations of religious freedom in the region, reported the arrests – more like abductions – Aug. 29.

Ramiel Bet Tarmaz, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary, Mohomad Dehnay and Amir Sina Dashti were with their wives north of Tehran in the town of Firuzkuh where they were fishing and having a family picnic. According to the report from MEC, intelligence officials arrived at the site at 1:30 p.m. They separated the women from their husbands and beat Amin Nader Afshar after he asked to see an arrest warrant.

There was no warrant.

(Middle East Concern/Facebook)Top Row (L to R) Amin Nader Ashfar, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, and Hadi Askary; Bottom Row (L to R): Mohamad Dehnay and Amir Sina Dashti. The men were "arrested" by Iranian intelligence officials for participating in illegal Christian activities Aug. 26. They have not been heard from since.

The type of case, however, is common and not unrelated to recent events. Ramiel Bet Tamraz is reportedly the son of an Assyrian Christian pastor arrested the day after Christmas 2014. Victor Bet Tamraz was celebrating Christmas with his family at home when arrested. Amin Nader Afshar was also arrested during the same raid.

MEC reported that Victor Bet Tamraz was charged with leading a house church, which is illegal in Iran, as well as "conducting evangelism" and "Bible printing and distribution."

Both Tamraz and Afshar were eventually released on bail, but were expected to face charges at a later date for their worship of Jesus Christ. In fact, family members believe police are trying to elicit a confession from Afshar and further evidence against Tamraz for the Christmas arrest.

Iran is listed as a "Country of Particular Concern" by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

According to the State Department's recent report on religious freedom, Iran's penal code "specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh ('enmity against God') and sabb al-nabi ('insulting the prophets')."

For example, in 2009, Yousef Nadarkhani, a pastor in the "Church of Iran," was arrested for questioning the mandatory teaching of the Quran in school – a practice he said violated the country's Constitution. He was arrested for subversion, but later charged with and sentenced to death for apostasy. He was acquitted in 2012, but has now been charged with attempting to disrupt the nation by participating in evangelism and "Zionist activities."

Ironically, Aug. 30 was the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. According to the USCIRF, "the disappearance of persons by [their] abduction or clandestine detention" is one factor in designating a nation a Country of Particular Concern.