Some good news from Iran, several Christian prisoners, including Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who has been in prison for nearly five years, have been released.
Pastor Nadarkhani is the last to be released of four Christian converts sentenced to ten years in prison in 2017 for house church activities. After their sentences were reduced at a retrial in 2020, Youhan Omidi and Yasser Mossayebzadeh were released in 2022 and 2021 respectively. Last month, Zaman Fadaie (known as Saheb) was released (on 9 February), and this was followed by Pastor Nadarkhani’s release (26 February).
The pastor told Article18 (a human rights organisation that defends religious freedom in Iran) that he was ‘happy to be released and at home after nearly five years in prison’ and ‘very grateful for all those who prayed for me and remembered me while I was in prison’. He added, “All I endured was small in comparison with what Christ has done for us.”
However, your prayers continue to be needed because Pastor Nadarkhani – who, since 2006, has repeatedly been harassed, arrested and imprisoned for his Christian activities – still faces flogging and two years living in exile on the other side of Iran.
In February 2021, a UN report said Nadarkhani had been the victim of ‘religiously motivated persecution’ and that his detention was unlawful.
The releases of Pastor Nadarkhani and Zaman Fadaie are among a wave of pardons by the Iranian regime as it marks the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Two other Christians, Mehdi Rokhparvar and Moslem Rahimi, were also released last month.
This is good news and follows the acquittal last year of nine Christians who faced the prospect of five years in prison. In late 2021, the Iranian Supreme Court decreed that belonging to a house church was not a criminal offence. However, despite this, Christians continue to face oppression for expression their faith, with many believers still facing charges and imprisonment.
As Article18’s latest annual report says, ”Such pardons, while welcome, do not address the original injustice of their sentencing and imprisonment, and the government continues to regard rights and freedoms guaranteed in international law as crimes, including the right to freely adopt a religion of one’s choice, and to manifest one’s faith in community with others.”
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