An Iranian pastor who faced a death sentence because of accusations he abandoned Islam for Christianity walked out jail a free man Saturday, according to a Christian human-rights organisation.
After 2 years, 11 months behind bars, Yousef Nadarkhani emerged from jail to rejoin his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, and their two sons, reported Middle East Concern, citing unnamed sources. Middle East Concern is an association of Christian agencies that advocates for religious freedom.
In September 2010 Nadarkhani was sentenced to death after a court of appeals in Rasht, 243 kilometers (151 miles) northwest of Tehran, found him guilty of leaving Islam. He had been in prison since October 2009.
At an appeal hearing in June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence but asked the court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion. The court declared that Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion, but that he was still guilty of apostasy due to his Muslim ancestry.
Here is the full statement from Middle East Concern:
We are pleased to report that pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been released!
Recall that he has been imprisoned since October 2009 and was summoned to a court hearing that was held today, Saturday, 8th September. Two major developments occurred. First, his previous conviction for apostasy was withdrawn. Second, he was convicted on charges relating to evangelistic activities and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
The time already served (two years and 11 months) counts towards the new sentence. The court accepted a bail payment (in the form of a salary guarantee document) in order to release him one month early. We understand that he was accordingly released and has now been reunited with his wife, Fatemeh, and their two sons.
Recall that in September 2010 the Revolutionary Tribunal of Gilan Province found him guilty of apostasy and sentenced him to death – a verdict upheld by the Supreme Court in July 2011. In September 2011 he faced further court hearings during which he refused to recant his Christian faith.
Elsewhere in Iran, at least 16 others remain detained because of their Christian activities. Several are serving prison sentences of up to six years.
Iranian Christians rejoice that Yousef has been released and reunited with his wife, Fatemeh, and their two sons. They request our continued intercession that:
a. Yousef, Fatemeh, and their two sons will know the comfort, presence and peace of Jesus as they resume living together as a family
b. They, and those close to them, will know the Spirit’s guiding wisdom for their future
c. All believers in Iran facing trials because of their faith will know the Spirit’s guiding wisdom
d. Those who continue to be detained for their faith will know the presence and peace of Jesus, remain strong in their faith and clear in their witness and testimony
e. Christians throughout Iran will not be intimidated but will know the Lord’s enabling and guidance
f. All officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.