Iran releases house church leader Pastor Nadharkani after years behind bars

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

Compiled from reports in Worthy News and Premier Christian News

Iranian evangelical house church movement leader Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been released as part of a national amnesty issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Church of Iran pastor was detained in Iran’s northern coastal city of Rasht in May 2016 during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes as part of a broader crackdown on non-Muslims in Iran. While the men were released on bail in 2017, they were re-arrested in a series of raids in July 2018.

In June 2020, Pastor Nadarkhani and one of the other imprisoned Christians, Deacon Saheb Fadaie, had their sentences reduced from 10 years to six years on appeal. Deacon Fadaie was reportedly also freed as part of the recent amnesty.

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Pastor Nadarkhani made earlier world headlines in 2010 when he was sentenced to death for “apostasy” or abandoning Islam. However, Iran’s judiciary changed the punishment to a three-year custodial sentence for “evangelising Muslims” before he was released in 2012.

It came as a setback when in May 2016, Yousef, along with his wife, Tina, and three other Christian converts from Islam, were re-arrested in Rasht, Christians said. He and the three men detained with him were each sentenced for “acting against the national security through propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity,” Christians with close knowledge about the case said.

Yousef was also ordered to spend two years in internal exile in the country’s south. “Yousef was arrested at home in July 2018. “Both he and his son were physically assaulted during the arrest. After that, he was taken to [Tehran’s notorious] Evin Prison,” recalled advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

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That’s why “Iranian Christians rejoice that pastor Yousef has been released but remember that he had been imprisoned unjustly and that many Christian converts remain detained in Iran,” according to a MEC source.

His release came amid international pressure. In February 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called the pastor’s continued detention “arbitrary.”

Mervyn Thomas, founder and president of the advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, welcomed “the long-overdue release of Pastor Nadarkhani and Deacon Fadaie. But note that they have lost years of their life in prison on false charges due to Iran’s continuing criminalization of the Christian faith, among other religions and beliefs.”

Thomas urged Iranian authorities “to ensure that these men are permitted to enjoy their freedom without further harassment or intimidation.” He added that his group continues “to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all others who are currently imprisoned on account of their religion or belief.”

Tehran has denied wrongdoing saying its actions are to defend the Islamic values of the country.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Middle East Advocacy officer, Mena, said Iran has a rapidly growing church which could be as big as 1 million Christians: “It is a revival, certainly, it is. A revival is happening in Iran. There is nothing the Iranian authorities can do to stop this process, they are aware of that. And that’s why they target church leaders and Christian activists.”

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