Iranian Authorities Release Assyrian Pastor on Bail

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An Assyrian pastor the Iranian government accused of
“converting Muslims” has been released from prison on bail and is awaiting

The Rev. Wilson
Issavi, whose church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, was released from Dastgard prison in Isfahan last week. Conflicting
reports indicated Issavi, 65, was released sometime between March 28 and
the morning of March 30.

On Feb. 2, State
Security Investigations (SSI) agents arrested Issavi shortly after he finished a
house meeting at a friend’s home in Isfahan. Along with the accusation of
“converting Muslims,” the pastor is charged with not co-operating with police,
presumably for continuing to hold such house meetings after police sealed the
Evangelical Church of Kermanshah and ordered him not to reopen it.

After his
arrest, Issavi was held at an unmarked prison facility in Isfahan and apparently
tortured, according to a Christian woman who fled Iran and knows Issavi and his
family. The Christian woman, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said
Issavi’s wife, Medline Nazanin, visited the pastor at the unmarked facility.
Nazanin said it was obvious Issavi had been tortured, the Christian told

confinement cells were so filthy he contracted a life-threatening infection,
Nazanin told the Christian woman.

“They took him
to the hospital and then returned him back to the prison,” the woman

Friends of
Issavi added that he is still dealing with the lingering effects of the

During Issavi’s
imprisonment, authorities threatened to execute him, sources close to the case
said. The joy of Issavi’s family at his release was tinged with fear as they
waited in agony for the possibility of him being killed by Islamic extremists,
as is common in Iran when Christians are detained for religious reasons and then

“Sometimes they
release you just to kill you,” the Christian source said.

Issavi has not
been informed of his trial date.

Issavi’s friend
said that low-key ethnic Christians, such as the Assyrians, are largely
unbothered for long periods of time. Active Christians are treated differently.

“When you start
evangelizing, then you are in real trouble,” she said.

authorities have set up a video camera outside Issavi’s church to monitor anyone
going in or out of the building, according to the pastor’s

Issavi was one
of a few Christians in leadership positions arrested in Isfahan in February
during what some Middle Eastern experts described as a crackdown on area church

Isfahan, a city
of more than 1.5 million people located 208 miles south of
Tehran, has been the site of other anti-Christian persecution. In an incident in
July 2008, two Christians died as a result of injuries received from police who
were breaking up a house meeting.

On Feb. 28,
Isfahan resident Hamid Shafiee and his wife Reyhaneh Aghajary, both converts
from Islam and house church leaders, were arrested at their home.

handcuffed, beat and pepper-sprayed Aghajary and then took her to prison. Her
husband Shafiee, who was away from the house when police arrived, was arrested
an hour later when he returned to the house. Approximately 20 police officers
raided the home, seizing Bibles, CDs, photographs, computers, telephones,
personal items and other literature.

The couple is
still being held. Other details about their detainment are

Three Christians

three Christians arrested on Dec. 24, 2009, have been released, according to
Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).

Jalili, Mitra Zahmati, and Farzan Matin were initially arrested along with 12
other Christians at a home in Varamin. Eventually they were transferred to
Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, though the other 12 prisoners were conditionally
released on Jan. 4. 

Zahmati and Matin were freed on March 17, though terms of their release were
unclear. Jalili is married and has two children.

Iran has a
longstanding history of religious repression. Shia Islam is the official state
religion and is ensconced as such in Iran’s constitution. Every year since 1999,
the U.S. Secretary of State has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular
Concern” for its persecution of Christians and other religious

According to the
2009 International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. Department of
State, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran
continued to get significantly worse.

particularly evangelicals, continued to be subject to harassment and close
surveillance,” the report states. “The government vigilantly enforced its
prohibition on proselytizing by closely monitoring the activities of evangelical
Christians, discouraging Muslims from entering church premises, closing
churches, and arresting Christian converts.”

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