Iranian Pastor Released after Three Years in Prison
Washington, D.C. (September 10, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy was acquitted and freed on Saturday after nearly three years of imprisonment.
Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor from Rasht, Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for denouncing the country’s educational practice that requires children to read the Quran in public schools. In September 2010, Nadarkhani was given the death sentence for apostasy in a provincial court. After appealing the decision, the verdict was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court in July 2011. Nadarkhani was told his sentence could be overturned if he recanted his Christian faith. “I cannot,” Nadarkhani replied.
Last month, reports began surfacing that new charges may be leveled against Nadarkhani to give judges fresh impetus to carry out a death sentence. Instead, a trial court in the Gilan Province on September 8 lowered Nadarkhani’s charges to evangelistic activities. The pastor was released with time served, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
“After languishing in prison for almost three years, he has been reunited with his family,” Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, told Fox News. “Pastor Youcef’s story is an example of how the world can join together to ensure that justice is served and freedom preserved.”
Nadarkhani was greeted by his wife and two sons when he left the prison. It is unknown, however, if the pastor will be able to remain in the country.
“While I am sure that Pastor Youcef would prefer to stay with his flock, the high-profile nature of his case may put him, his family, and his church in extreme danger as long as they stay in Iran,” said Ann Buwalda of the Virginia-based Jubilee Campaign.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While ICC welcomes the news of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s release, we strongly condemn the brutal intimidation tactics used by Iranian officials to suppress religious freedom and persecute minorities. If not for keen international attention on Nadarkhani’s case, the pastor would still be in prison or may have already been executed. The battle is still far from won. There are at least 16 Christians and hundreds of political activists and religious minorities, including from the Bahá'í faith, that linger in Iranian prisons. Among them is Christian Pastor Behnam Irani who is suffering from poor health and being denied medical treatment in Karaj. ICC calls on the Iranian government to display its commitment to international human rights standards by immediately releasing all prisoners of conscience.”
For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: email@example.com
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