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LA PUENTE, Calif.—A retired Southern California pastor with a history of overseas activism was detained in Iran after staging a protest outside a prison to demand the release of Iranian Christians held inside, his daughter and a fellow pastor said.
Pastor Eddie Romero, founder of the organization Exodus8one, crossed into Iran from Turkey Oct. 14 as part of a tourist group, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Pasadena Star-News reported Tuesday.
Romero broke away from the group last Thursday and reappeared Monday at Evin Prison in Tehran, chanting “Let my people go,” his daughter, Sarah Yetter, said.
Romero broadcast about six minutes of his protest and eventual detention on the Internet using a smartphone hidden in his pocket, Yetter said.
He surrendered to guards who brought him inside the prison for questioning. His whereabouts were unknown on Tuesday.
“He was heard being questioned about where he was from by someone in English, and he was heard repeating his appeal for the prisoners seven more times,” Yetter said.
Guards could be heard making plans to bring in an English translator, shortly before the phone cut off shortly after 11 p.m. local time, she said.
Shahrokh Afshar, a pastor for The Iranian Church On The Way in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles, said the guards sounded confused in the recording but remained respectful.
“They weren’t sure if he was there protesting or if he wanted to visit someone,” Afshar said.
Romero hopes to raise awareness about Christian prisoners Farshid Fathi, Saeed Abedini, Mostafa Bordbar and Alireza Seyyedian. All were imprisoned because of their faith, Afshar said.
“Their greatest sin was leaving Islam to follow Christ,” he said.
Abedini has been detained since September 2012. The U.S. government has previously called for the release of Abedini and two other Americans who have been subjected to lengthy detentions.
In 2008, Romero was arrested in China during the Beijing Olympics after demanding the release of five Chinese activists. In Beijing, Romero painted on the walls of a hotel room and then went on the run for 21 days before surrendering in Tiananmen Square. Chinese authorities held Romero for approximately 24 hours before putting him on a flight home, Yetter said.
Romero retired as a pastor from Hacienda Christian Fellowship in La Puente, Calif., in July. He founded Exodus8one in 2008 and is currently a world religion and philosophy professor at Mount San Antonio Community College.