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Iranian pastor arrested by security forces

There're calls to release a pastor who's been taken by government authorities while conducting a prayer meeting at a church in Tehran. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Revd Robert Asserian was arrested by security forces and taken to an unknown location yesterday morning. At the time Revd Asserian, a pastor at the Central Assemblies of God (AoG) Church in Tehran, was conducting a prayer meeting at the church. Security forces are also reported to have raided his house on the same morning and confiscated some of his belongings, including his computer and books.

CSW's Middle East representative, who can't be named for security reasons, tells Premier the arrest is another example of the ongoing crackdown of Christian activities in the Islamic state:

CSW has also received reports that Revd Asserian's church may be forced to close by the end of June due to continued pressure from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. In 2009, the church was ordered to end services delivered in Farsi on Fridays, a day off for Iranians, and was only permitted to hold services in the Persian language on Sundays.

However, sources have confirmed that the Iranian authorities have now ordered the ending of Farsi services on Sunday, giving church leaders the option of conducting Sunday services in Armenian or facing closure. 

This news has caused church leaders to evaluate their options, with serious consideration being given to shutting its doors.

A local source stated that:

"The pressure has become unbearable, they [the authorities] constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this."

A final decision is expected later this week. Meanwhile, CSW firmly believes that attacks on the Christian community in Iran have increased in the run-up to next month's Presidential election. Reports say Iranian authorities barred two potentially powerful and disruptive candidates from running in next month's presidential election ensuring a contest largely among hardliners loyal to the clerical supreme leader. Akbar Has hemi Rafsanjani, a veteran companion of the Islamic Republic's founder, was denied a place on the ballot by the Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, according to state media. As was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a close aide to outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose hard-line followers have jockeyed with those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Both rejections may generate angry responses with Mashaie sating he would appeal, while urging supporters to stay calm.

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