Reports in Iran indicate that a Christian pastor who was arrested on Christmas Day has been released, while a second pastor remains in prison for his religious beliefs.
“Iran must not be allowed to persecute individuals because of their
faith,” stressed Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the Washington,
D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, which has been
monitoring the plight of Christians in Iran.
In a Jan. 7 blog post, Sekulow relayed news of Christian pastor Yousef
Nadarkhani’s release from prison in Iran after being arrested on
The 35-year-old pastor was originally arrested in 2009 after
complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the
Quran at school.
Found guilty of apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity,
Nadarkhani was ordered to recant or face execution. But despite numerous
threats, he refused to abandon his Christian beliefs.
An execution order for the pastor was reported in February 2012. As
fears of a secret execution grew, the American Center for Law and
Justice worked to keep an international spotlight on the situation,
prompting pressure from the United States, the United Nations and
Brazil, which has a key economic partnership with Iran.
Amid increasing calls for the pastor's freedom, Nadarkhani was
acquitted in September 2012. While the court preserved his three-year
sentence for “evangelizing to Muslims,” it determined that his time
spent in prison was adequate, and the remaining time – about 45 days –
could be served on probation.
However, on Christmas Day, Iranian sources reported that the pastor was
re-arrested and order to serve the remainder of his sentence in jail.
Religious liberty advocates immediately raised concerns, noting not
only that Iran had violated the terms of the pastor’s release, but also
that his attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, had been imprisoned as well.
Sekulow observed that Nadarkhani “has become the face of persecution
around the world” and explained his re-arrest on Christmas Day
demonstrates Iran’s intention of making him an example “to intimidate
people of minority faiths.”
The pastor’s release was “a direct result of people across the world standing up and demanding his freedom,” he said.
But while he welcomed Nadarkhani’s freedom, Sekulow also emphasized
that another Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, remains imprisoned in Iran
for his faith.
After converting from Islam to Christianity, Abedini – who is a U.S.
citizen – drew the ire of Iranian officials for helping to start house
churches in the country. In 2009, he reached an agreement with the
Iranian government that permitted him to travel freely in the country if
he stopped working with these underground churches.
The 32-year-old pastor then shifted his focus towards humanitarian
efforts with non-religious Iranian orphanages, according to his wife.
However, during a September trip to visit his parents and work with
these orphanages, he was arrested.
He is now being held in one of Iran’s “most notoriously brutal and abusive prisons,” Sekulow warned.
Abedini’s family members in Iran are currently under house arrest,
while his wife and young children are in the U.S., working to secure his
freedom and speaking up about the toll his imprisonment has taken on
The American Center for Law and Justice has launched a petition calling
on the U.S. government to take action on behalf of Abedini. That
petition has drawn more than 64,000 signatures so far.
“Iran is watching and responds to immense international pressure,”
Sekulow emphasized, calling for renewed efforts and prayers for the
“We must continue to demand that Iran stop abusing and persecuting
Christians and those willing to defend human rights,” he said.