Iranian forces arrested Rev. Robert Asserian on Tuesday, May 21 as he conducted a prayer meeting at the Assemblies of God church in Tehran where he serves as one of the pastors. Security forces raided his house earlier in the morning, confiscating belongings such as his computer and books before moving to the church to arrest him. He was taken to an unknown location.
Church leaders had been expecting some sort of retaliation against the church. A few days ago, the elders met with government officials to ask for information and clarifications on another pastor, Farhad Sabokrough, his wife and two other church members from the AOG church in Ahvaz, who were called this month to serve one-year prison sentences. Officials told the elders the detainees would be released when the church permanently shut down.
Tension between the officially-sanctioned Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran has been growing in recent years. The church was informed that it may have to cease all its services by next month. On Sunday, May 19, AOG leaders announced to the congregation that they would soon come to an important decision about the future of the church due to increased pressures from Iran’s intelligence ministry. Church leaders are meeting this week to pray and finalize plans for the total closure of the church by mid-June.
Sources told Article 18 that the AOG church leaders are being forced to choose between closing if they continue to offer Farsi-language services or limiting their services to only the Armenian language. The whole congregation is invited to a service on May 26 to hear the announcement of the church leaders.
“The pressure has become unbearable,” a source told Article 18. “They [the government authorities] constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.”
The AOG church in Tehran is one of the few remaining churches that offers worship services in Farsi. In 2009, the same church was ordered to discontinue their Friday services, which were being attended by an overwhelming number of visitors each week. In February 2012, the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church was also ordered to cease its Friday services. Friday is the weekly day off for Iranians, and church services on Fridays attracted both new converts and Muslims interested in Christianity.
Sources: Article 18, Farsi Christian News Network, Middle East Concern