(JNS.org) Iranian authorities have closed the country’s largest Persian-language Pentecostal church, Central Assemblies of God Church (AoG), and have arrested its leader, Pastor Robert Asserian, as part of a larger crackdown on Christian worship in the country ahead of elections.
“Before going to the church, authorities raided Pastor Asserian’s home where they confiscated a computer and several books. Then, they found Pastor Asserian at the church leading the prayer service, immediately arrested him, and announced the church’s imminent closure,” said George O. Wood, general superintendent of the AoG in the United States, the BosNewsLife Middle East Christian wire service reported.
Christian experts who are following the events in Iran believe this is an attempt to shut down Persian-language Christian churches ahead of the June 14 elections.
“These incidents appear to be an attempt to stop worship services from being conducted in Farsi, the language of the majority of Iranians,” Wood said.
Christians in Iran, many of whom are converts, have faced severe persecution from Iranian authorities who are fearful of their growing numbers.
Several Christian pastors have been arrested in recent years, including Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who served three years in prison and was recently released, and Pastor Behnam Irani, who is serving five years in prison for “Christian activities,” according to the advocacy group Present Truth Ministries.
Christian groups estimate that there around 100,000 Christians in Iran.