The Iranian authorities are rounding up Christians across the country in a wave of arrests targeting ordinary church members "“ including a 78-year-old woman "“ and leaders.
Since Christmas, security agents have conducted sweeps of house churches in Ahwaz, Shiraz, Esfahan, Tehran and Kermanshah. Some officially registered churches have been targeted too. Christians have also been seized in their homes and workplaces.
In one incident, 78-year-old Giti Hakimpour was arrested in a raid on her home in Esfahan at 6am on 22 February. Officers searched the active church member's apartment and confiscated some of her belongings. Giti, who had recently undergone knee replacement surgery, was not in good health; her doctor had ordered that she needed special care and should not be subjected to stress. Following persistent efforts from church leaders, Giti was released on 25 February.
Hekmat Salimi, the pastor of another church in Esfahan, was arrested on the same day as Giti. His home was ransacked by security agents, who seized his computer, books and other personal belongings.
Elsewhere, in Kermanshah, Masoud Delijani, a Christian convert from Islam, has been jailed for three years. He was charged with being a Christian, holding illegal house church gatherings, evangelising Muslims and action against national security. Masoud, a school teacher, was not given the opportunity to defend himself in court.
Following his arrest in March 2011, Masoud was held in custody, mostly in solitary confinement, for 114 days, during which he was subjected to severe mental and physical pressure before being temporarily released upon a bail payment of around US$100,000.
Entire congregations have been gathered up in some swoops. On 21 February, the authorities raided a house church in Kermanshah and arrested all 13 Christians who had gathered for worship. According to latest reports, three remain in custody.