Joy at release of Iranian pastor but much to campaign for…Tuesday 11 September 2012
Release International calls for continued pressure on Iran after the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who had been sentenced to death for apostasy. Pastor Nadarkhani was set free on Saturday after an Iranian court dropped the charge of apostasy – leaving Islam – but upheld a charge of evangelising Muslims.
The court sentenced him to three years, but promptly released him because he had already served the time. Pastor Nadarkhani was jailed in 2009 after complaining that his children were being required to learn the Koran in school.
‘Release is delighted Pastor Nadarkhani has been set free,’ says Release UK director Colin King. ‘We congratulate Iran for accepting that the death penalty for apostasy is a step too far. After repeatedly threatening to take this man’s life, the courts have now done the right thing in letting him go.
‘This decision reveals again the power of prayer and the effectiveness of active campaigning. But we must still recognise that a man has been sentenced to three years simply for sharing his faith. The Iranian government is increasingly hostile towards Christians, and while other believers remain behind bars in Iran there is still much to campaign for.’
There was concern last week that Pastor Nadarkhani could face new charges of committing ‘security–related’ crimes, perhaps as a way of deflecting attention from the religious persecution aspect of the case.
Another Christian leader jailed on similar charges is 41–year–old Pastor Behnam Irani, who was arrested while leading a Bible study group. Pastor Irani, who is married with two young children, has been repeatedly beaten in jail and now has difficulty walking and seeing.
He was convicted of ‘crimes against national security’ in January 2011 and was given a six–year sentence. Release has launched a Facebook campaign (’Release Behnam Irani’) or you can follow this link to email the head of Iran’s judiciary direct and appeal for clemency.
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.