Iranian pastor released from prison

Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who faced a possible death sentence after he was arrested in October 2009, charged and convicted for apostasy and for attempting to evangelize Muslims, has been released.

Nadarkhani was released in early September after being acquitted of apostasy. He was, however, found guilty of evangelism, but was released for time already served.

Reports circulated in late February that Iranian courts had issued an execution order for Nadarkhani and that the execution could have taken place at any time.

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), joining other Christian and international organizations, had condemned the arrest and conviction. Raimundo Barreto, BWA director of the Division of Freedom and Justice, urged Baptists to not only to pray, "But also to contact their own governments in order to increase international pressure on the government of Iran to annul the death sentence, and demanding his immediate release."

Baptists in several countries reportedly responded to the appeal, including Brazilian Baptists who, along with other Christians, met with the Iranian ambassador in Brasilia, and the Argentina Baptist Association, which presented a note to the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, asking for Nardakhani's release.

The BWA wrote a letter to Iranian authorities and to Suzan Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Several meetings were also held with Victoria Alvarado, the former director of the US State Department Office of International Religious Freedom to discuss strategies on how to better approach this case. The BWA also communicated with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the UN, and with Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of the Brazilian permanent mission at the UN.

"As Baptists, we all rejoiced with the release of pastor Nardakhani, and also with the release of at least 130 political prisoners in Iran last month," Barreto said. "We should continue to pray for his safety , that of his family, and for other prisoners of conscience still held captive in Iran, including Christian pastor Farshid Fathi who is serving a six-year sentence, and seven Baha'i leaders serving 20-year prison sentences on the basis of their religious beliefs."

Prior to his imprisonment, Nardakhani, who converted to Christianity at the age of 19, was pastor of a 400-member Christian congregation and a network of Christian house churches in the city of Rasht in northwestern Iran.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 13, 2012