THE Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who faced the death
penalty for refusing to recant his Christian faith (
News, 7 October 2011), was released unexpectedly from prison
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) issued a statement on
Saturday morning saying that it had been informed by "reliable
sources" that Mr Nadarkhani had been released and was at home with
his family. Pictures appeared online shortly afterwards, showing
the pastor emerging from prison in the city of Rasht, in north
Iran, and hugging his wife and children.
Mr Nadarkhani, a member of the Protestant Evangelical Church of
Iran, was sentenced to death in 2010 after being convicted of
apostasy. Iranian criminal law does not demand that apostasy is
punishable by death, but a constitutional loophole allowed judges
to justify the sentence with reference to sharia and "authoritative
fatwas", CSW said.
Mr Nadarkhani had been called to appear in the Revolutionary
Court of Second Instance, in Rasht, on Saturday, but did not know
if any new charges would be brought against him. Human-rights
campaigners expressed concern that he could face new charges of
blasphemy or of being a risk to national security.
When Mr Nadarkhani appeared in court, he was acquitted of
apostasy, but found guilty of the charge of evangelising Muslims.
The latter charge carried a sentence of three years, which he had
already served, and he was therefore released.
Speaking on Monday, CSW's team leader for Africa and the Middle
East, Dr Khataza Gondwe, said that Mr Nadarkhani's release by the
court had come as a "surprise". She said: "The fact that this
release occurred at a time when there was a massive call to prayer
is not a coincidence."
The huge amount of publicity that the case had generated around
the world could have been a factor in the court's deciding to
release Mr Nadarkhani, Dr Gondwe said. Countries with which Iran is
on friendly terms - particularly in Latin America and Africa - had
commented on the case. Last week, the Uruguayan Senate adopted a
resolution calling for the suspension of Mr Nadarkhani's death
Dr Gondwe said that Christians should pray for Mr Nadarkhani's
safety. Another Iranian Christian pastor, Mehdi Dibaj, who was
sentenced to death for apostasy in 1993, was assassinated six
months after his release in January 1994.
The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said last Saturday:
"We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph
for justice and the rule of law. While we rejoice . . . we do not
forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on
account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue
campaigning until all of Iran's religious minorities are able to
enjoy religious freedom."
The UK director of Release International, Colin King, said on
Monday that Mr Nadarkhani's release showed "the power of prayer and
the effectiveness of active campaigning. But we must still
recognise that a man has been sentenced to three years simply for
sharing his faith. . . While other believers remain behind bars in
Iran, there is still much to campaign for."
The Canon Treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral, the Revd Mark
Oakley, said on Monday: "It is four months since we held a special
service to pray for Yousef in the cathedral. We are all delighted
here to hear that he has been released and is now back home with