Iran Frees House Church Leader; 3 Church Members Still in Custody
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Iranian house church leader Youcef Nadarkhani and his wife are free after being arrested during a raid last week targeting 10 Christian homes, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Iran Intelligence Ministry authorities also arrested three members of Nadarkhani's home church -- Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie, and Mohammadreza Omidi -- taking their computers, cell phones, and Bibles during the raid. The three men are still in custody.
Pastor Nadarkhani, 38, was originally known for challenging the Iranian government's monopoly on public education which forces Christian students to recite the Koran in public schools. According to the Iranian constitution, however, all branches of Islam and Christianity have the right to worship as they please.
The May 13 raid is not Nadarkhani's first encounter with Iranian authorities.
The house church pastor was arrested for the first time in 2009. Authorities also detained his wife, hoping to pressure him into conversion. He remained steadfast in his faith, and she was later released.
In 2010, however, Pastor Nadarkhani was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death by hanging, a ruling upheld by the Supreme Court of Iran in 2011. He was released from prison in December 2012 after being found innocent of apostasy, but was found guilty for evangelizing to Muslims. In 2013, he spent the year serving the rest of his sentence and was released in December of the same year.
"The government must held to account for its harassment of Iran's Christian community," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in reference to unwarranted arrests and continual house raids.
Although Pastor and Mrs. Nadarkhani regained freedom, many are enormously concerned for the other prisoners' well-being.
"We continue to call on Iran to fully respect its constitutional and international human rights obligations by ensuring justice and equality before the law are guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of their religion or belief," Thomas said.
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