Monday, September 10, 2012 (2:54 am)
TEHRAN/RASHT (Worthy News)– Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death and became a symbol of what his church called "suffering Christians" in this heavily Islamic nation, could embrace his wife and children Saturday, September 8, after he was unexpectedly released from prison, Worthy News learned.
"Thanks to all who have supported me with prayers", he told BosNewsLife in a statement through an interpreter.
The 35-year-old pastor appeared tired, but said he always kept his faith, even behind bars. "I experienced especially the presence of the Lord on my side every time," Nadarkhani said in brief remarks.
Nadarkhani had urged Christians not to give up hope that he would be released one day.
In a major turnaround the court in his home city of Rasht acquitted him of "apostasy" or abandoning Islam. He was found guilty of evangelizing among Muslims and sentenced to three years in prison, time he already served.
His wife Fatemah “Tina” Pasindedih and their two young sons, Daniel and Yoel, could be seen rushing to their father armed with flowers as he opened the iron door of the notorious prison where he had been held for over 1,000 days.
Relatives were weeping and smiling as he greeted his wife for the first time in freedom.
"This is an answer to prayers," added Firouz Khandjani, his friend and council member of the pastor's 'Church of Iran' house church movement.
In a letter Pastor Nadarkhani earlier called his long detention and possible execution "a trial of faith."
His sudden release suggested disagreements within Iran's leadership about the pastor's punishment, Iranian Christians said.
Officially only Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary, have the authority to halt an execution, according to trial observers.
However "According to the Sharia" or Muslim law, "when a notion is a matter of disagreement they cannot refer to it…It is the official reason why he was released," Khandjani explained to Worthy News.
Khandjani thanked Worthy News and its readers for following the case closely. Yet, he cautioned that he remains concerned about the pastor's future.
"Pastor Mehdi Dibaj had his apostasy charges reversed and then was murdered shortly after his release," some two decades ago, he recalled. "Several other pastors have also been assassinated," Khandjani said.
Saturday's release brought to a closure an ordeal that began over three years ago.
Nadarkhani was detained in his home city of Rasht in 2009, after trying to register his church and questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he claimed was unconstitutional.
He was later sentenced to death, but following an appeals trial, a court in Gilan province asked a final opinion from Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini, a move critics saw as an attempt to make someone else responsible for executing the married father of two children.
Iranian officials also offered freedom in exchange for renouncing his faith in Jesus Christ on at least four occasions, Christians familiar with the case told Worthy News.
As a compromise, officials last December reportedly offered him to at least recognize Islam's Prophet Mohammed as "a messenger sent by God" in exchange for an early release. Pastor Nadarkhani refused to do so saying that statement would "amount to abandoning" his faith in Jesus Christ.
In a letter, obtained by Worthy News while he was in prison, the pastor wrote that, "the Word of God tells us to expect to suffer hardship and dishonor for the sake of His Name."
However he said he had told his congregation that "Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings."
The pastor stressed that, "Anybody ignoring it will be ashamed in that day" when Christians will meet the Lord. "Let us remember that sometimes the leap of faith leads us towards some impasses. Just as the Word led the sons of Israel leaving Egypt toward the impasse of the Red sea," he wrote.
"These impasses are midway between promises of God and their fulfillment and they challenge our faith. Believers are to accept these challenges as a part of their spiritual course."
Khandjani, who himself is in hiding after reportedly being threatened by Iranian security, told Worthy News several believers of the Church of Iran and other denominations remain jailed. "There are other prisoners…I hope that they will be released too," Khandjani told Worthy News.
Despite reported hardship, there are at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran, according to church groups, with others saying that figure may be even several times higher.
Iran's leadership has defended its tough stand towards active Christians and denies wrongdoing, saying it defends the country's Islamic values.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Freed: Iranian Pastor Sentenced To Death For Apostasy Reportedly Released
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/08/pastor-youcef-nadarkhani-iranian-pastor-freed-reportedly-released_n_1867334.htmlThe Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 09/08/2012 3:55 pm Updated: 09/08/2012 3:57 pm
Supporters of imprisoned Iranian Christian Youcef Nadarkhani began celebrating Saturday as news reports surfaced that the pastor had been released by Iranian officials, mere months after it appeared a final execution order had been handed down.
Nadarkhani, 34 and a native Iranian, was found guilty in 2010 of apostasy and sentenced to death for refusing to recant Christianity. He has spent the last three years in jail awaiting his fate.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian group founded by Pat Robertson, has been keping careful tabs on the pastor's situation, and broke the news of his release Saturday morning on its website.
According to the ACLJ, the pastor was freed following a nearly six-hour court appearance. The Washington-based group cited sources "close to the case" as saying officials ultimately lowered his charges from apostasy to evangelizing Muslims, which carried a three-year term. Nadarkhani, who has a wife, Tina and two young sons, was therefore released with time served.
Speculation leading up to this most recent hearing in front of the Iranian Supreme Court was that Nadarkhani might be brought up on new security-based charges, which could have been used as an excuse to keep the pastor in jail, Fox reported.
However, speaking to Fox News, Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ, said the pastor had indeed been released.
"Today our sources in Iran reported that Pastor Youcef was acquitted of apostasy and released from prison. After languishing in prison for almost three years, he has been reunited with his family," Sekulow said.
Sekulow subsequently tweeted a picture of Nadarkhani apparently surrounded by family members.
Present Truth Industries, another Christian group actively involved in lobbying for Nadarkhani's release, confirmed the reports as well. The group quoted Nadarkhani as saying he thanked his supporters, and "everyone that has supported me with your prayers." It is unclear how the organization had obtained the quote.
During his imprisonment, the plight of Pastor Youcef became a cause celebre for the ACLJ and similar Christian groups like the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which rallied supporters in his defense, from government officials to megachurch leader Rick Warren.
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bi-partisan resolution condemning Nadarkhani's treatment, and the White House released its own, similar statement.
A Facebook group, Stop the execution of Pastor Nadarkhani in Iran, has 20,531 members, and the #TweetforYoucef Twitter campaign received three million tweets, according to the ACLJ.
Word of Nadarkhani's possible release spread quickly among the followers of the Youcef hashtag and members of the Facebook group have been posting about the news as well.
Facebook group member Rae Piper, posted, "Praise the Lord! Thank you thank you thank you Lord Jesus!!!!! xxx," while Catherine Katende Hennig wrote, "oh how amazingly and awe-inspiring is are God's ways and will..praise the Lord for Pastor's freedom."
Christian pastor jailed in Iran for 3 years is freed, watchdog group says
Published September 08, 2012
Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was originally sentenced to death in his native country for his Christian faith, was acquitted of apostasy charges and released from custody.
Nadarkhani, 32, was imprisoned for three years and waiting execution for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. His charges were lowered to evangelizing to Muslims, which carried a three-year sentence. He was released with time served, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based watchdog group that had been campaigning for the pastor's release.
"Today our sources in Iran reported that Pastor Youcef was acquitted of apostasy and released from prison. After languishing in prison for almost three years, he has been reunited with his family," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
"While we are working on confirming the exact details of his release, some sources report that the court alternatively convicted Pastor Youcef of evangelizing to Muslims, sentencing him to three years and granting him time served. 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 originally called to Saturday's hearing to answer to "charges brought against him," leading to speculation that the new charges from the Iranian Supreme Court could be for a security-based crime, a charge often handed down to cover-up prisoners being held and sentenced on faith-based charges.
"While we praise the release of Pastor Youcef, we must recognize that Iran felt obligated to save face among its people and continue its pattern of suppressing religious freedom with intimidation tactics," Tiffany Barrans, a legal director for ACLJ said to FoxNews.com.
"International attention to this matter saved this man's life, but we must not forget the human right of freedom of religion includes the right to freedom of expression."
Nadarkhani's attorney, who also has been jailed, maintained that the married father of two faced execution because he refused to renounce his religion. An Iranian diplomat told a United Nations panel earlier this year that Nadarkhani would not be executed.
According to Sharia law, an apostate has three days to recant. The pastor refused to do so and sources close to the matter say executions in Iran can happen at any time, often without notice. The court is reportedly seeking the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic's spiritual leader and highest authority, according to AFP.
The ACLJ worked with the State Department to try to win Nadarkhani's freedom, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this year condemning his imprisonment and calling for his immediate release. Nearly 3 million people have voiced support for Nadarkhani on Twitter through the "Tweet for Youcef" campaign.