Ex-Muslim who became Christian pastor freed from Iranian prison

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A Christian pastor who has been in and out of Iranian prisons for a decade, since he converted from Islam, now is free again.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom confirmed this week that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani had been released.

Nadarkhani, a convert from Islam and the leader of a 400-member house church, most recently had been arrested in 2018 and kept in jail on charges of acting against national security and promoting “Zionist Christianity.”

The Iranian government first attacked him in 2010, when he was accused of apostasy and evangelism, and sentenced to death, a sentence that later was dismissed.

“USCIRF welcomes news of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s long-overdue release,” the organization said in a statement.

“The Iranian regime has relentlessly targeted Christian converts from Islam for peacefully practicing their faith. Though we are relieved by his release many still remain imprisoned. We call for the release of all religious prisoners in Iran,” said spokesman Abraham Cooper.

“The U.S. government must continue to work with its partners in the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance to hold Iranian authorities accountable for its unjustified arrests and many violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

The organization reported that Iran’s constitution fails to recognize evangelical Christian communities, unlike other Christian communities that are afforded “nominal recognition.”

Police often raid those Christians during their peaceful religious gathers, especially at times such as Christmas.

And Iran specifically targets those who convert from Islam.

“Pastor Nadarkhani’s repeated unjust detentions on the basis of his faith are illustrative of the Iranian authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of religion or belief and persecution of religious communities,” said USCIRF Commissioner Mohamed Magid. “The U.S. government must use all available options to hold accountable Iranian officials responsible for or complicit in these egregious violations.”

The USCIRF already has recommended that Iran be labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “Country of Particular Concern” over its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.”

WND reported in 2012 that the pastor, who had been imprisoned and let out, was taken into custody on Christmas Day, on prosecutors’ demands he serves more prison time.

There was another attack in 2016 and in 2018, he was returned to jail again, this time after a “brutal attack in his home that included state agents tasering his young son.”

At the time, the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked on behalf of Nadarkhani, said, “For an Iranian citizen and father to be beaten in his own home – in front of his terrified family – is abhorrent. And to use a taser on a child is nothing short of savagery. And all because Pastor Youcef preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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