Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, once sentenced to death in Iran for apostasy, was the third Christian convert recently released from prison as part of the government’s annual amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, Morning Star News reported.
Originally sentenced to death in 2010 for leaving Islam, Nadarkhani was freed on Feb. 26, following the pardon and release earlier in the month of Hadi Rahimi and Zaman Fadaei, religious freedom advocates said. While welcoming the releases, they noted that those released had already served significant portions of their sentences in cases marred by legal irregularities even by Iranian standards.
‘Free and with their families again’
“Their pardon hardly addresses the injustice of the original sentencing and suffering that the men and their families endured,” said a specialist on Iran with Middle East Concern (MEC) on condition of anonymity. “But we are glad for their sakes that they are free and with their families again.”
Nadarkhani had been acquitted of apostasy in September 2012 but was found guilty of a lesser charge of evangelizing and sentenced to three years in prison.
He was arrested again, along with his wife, in May 2016 when agents with the Ministry of Intelligence began raiding Christian homes and house churches in Rasht. In July 2016, the Revolutionary Court in Rasht charged Nadarkhani with “crimes against national security” and accused him of being a Zionist.
Nadarkhani, his wife and two other Christians were found guilty of acting against national security, propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity in June 2017 and sentenced to 10 years each in prison. Nadarkhani was also sentenced to two years’ exile in Nik Shahr.
Nadarkhani remained free until officials arrested him at his home in July 2018 and took him to Evin Prison to begin serving his sentence. Security officers assaulted Nadarkhani and his son during the arrest, according to MEC and other advocacy groups. Upon judicial review of his case, Nadarkhani’s sentence was later reduced to six years.
Iran ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
During the past few years, the government of Iran has severely cracked down on house churches, but the WWL report states, “despite great oppression, the Islamic Republic of Iran has seen phenomenal growth in its underground church movement.”