Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Christian house-church leader released after 560 days in prison

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

AHWAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- A house-church leader who had been arrested by security authorities because of his Christian faith together with some other Christian converts, has finally been released after 560 days in prison, according to Mohabat News (www.mohabatnews.com ).
Noorollah Qabitizade was interrogated and tortured in prison. (Courtesy Mohabat News).
According to Mohabat News reporters, Noorollah Qabitizade, a Christian convert who had been arrested for his Christian faith, was released after being held captive for nearly 19 months. During his imprisonment, he was put in solitary confinement and interrogated many times.

Mohabat News says Mr. Qabitizade spent his time in prison in Dezful and Ahwaz. He was released on July 16, 2012 from Karoon prison in Ahwaz following an order issued by judicial authorities of Khuzestan province. Khuzestan province is about 800 KMs south-west of Tehran.

Noorollah Qabitizade was arrested on December 24, 2010 together with 10 other Christian converts. They had gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve in a house-church in Dezful when security authorities attacked their meeting, hand-cuffed and blind-folded him. He was then transferred to an abandoned house where only two security agents were present. Later he was transferred to the Intelligence office of Ahwaz for further interrogation.

Mohabat News says Qabitizade, who was a resident of Dezful, was subjected to numerous interrogation sessions.
In its online report of his release, Mohabat News says security interrogators subjected him to severe mental torture and solitary confinement in an effort to cause him leave his faith in Christianity. The mental torture ranged from forcing him to sign a disclaimer stating that he would stop evangelizing, to writing a letter denouncing his Christian faith.

Qabitizade’s trial was held in September 2011 in Criminal Branch one of Ahwaz court, chaired by Judge Pour-Mohammadian.
An eyewitness told Mohabat News that Mr. Qabitizadeh was brought to the court with his hands and feet in chains. To put more mental pressure on him and intimidate him, he was also told that he was going to be sentenced to death in that session of his trial.

Qabitizade, who is 48 years old, was among those arrested during a broad wave of arrests of Christians all across the country carried out by Iranian security and intelligence authorities at Christmas 2010.

Mohabat News says that at that time, security authorities arrested more than 60 Christians and house church members all across Iran in a pre-organized and well-coordinated plan. After these Christians were arrested, their families were informed that their charges were apostasy (changing religion), promoting Christianity, and being in touch with Christian organizations as well as the formation of house-churches.

“The day after this incident, many regime-supported media reported that evangelical Christian leaders in Tehran and other cities had been arrested. They broadcasted this report broadly in their own media,” the news agency stated.

Morteza Tamadon, Governor of Tehran, also called these Christians “extreme propagators who enter the body of Islam like ‘corrupted and deviated ones.’"

Tamadon also promised to increase the pressure and arrest of evangelical Christians.

Mohabat News says that in addition, during his speech on October 19 in Qom, for the first time Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei warned against the growth of house churches along with false mysticism and Baha'ism.

The agency said that following his speech a new wave of attacks by Iranian security and judicial authorities was initiated and made the situation even tougher for Christians, especially those with an Islamic background. It also caused the attacks to be more organized and coordinated.

Mohabat News explained that this situation has worsened since the beginning of 2011 and reached official churches as well. Iranian security authorities further restricted official churches and even ordered the cancellation of some Farsi-language church services and closure of some churches in Iran.

Mohabat News said these pressures continue even to the present day.

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

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