Persecuted Christian Pastor Released in Iran Following Christmas Day Arrest

By Barbara Boland | January 8, 2014 | 10:38 AM EST

Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani sentenced to death for apostasy in Iran, was freed from prison in November 2012. (Photo: ACLJ)

(CNSNews.com) – A conservative civil rights group is welcoming the release of Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from an Iranian prison, after he and dozens of other Christians were interrogated and arrested by the Islamic Republic on Christmas Day.

The American Center for Law and Justice says this should have been the first Christmas in three years that Nadarkhani spent with his family.

Nadarkhani had already spent three years in prison for apostasy (becoming a Christian), and his arrest on Christmas brought another 14 days behind bars – even after his apostasy conviction was dismissed. He was released on Tuesday,  Jan. 7.

“The ACLJ welcomes his release from this unjust and illegal imprisonment,” the group said in a statement. “Iran must not be allowed to persecute individuals because of their faith. Pastor Youcef has become the face of persecution around the world, and his re-arrest on Christmas Day shows Iran’s intent to make an example of Pastor Youcef to intimidate people of minority faiths.”

The ACLJ noted that while Nadarkhani is once again free, American Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned for his faith in what is described as one of Iran’s most brutal and abusive prisons. As CNSNews.com previously reported, the ACLJ has blasted the Obama administration for not doing more to secure Abedini’s release.

“Pastor Youcef’s release is a direct result of people across the world standing up and demanding his freedom.  Iran is watching and responds to immense international pressure,” the ACLJ said. “We must continue to demand that Iran stop abusing and persecuting Christians and those willing to defend human rights.”

The British government has also condemned the recent re-arrest of Nadarkhani and other Christians, calling religious freedom in Iran “a matter of ongoing and deep concern.”

“Reports that more than 50 people were arrested for celebrating Christmas in a private home show the depths of intolerance with which the Iranian Government treats its own citizens,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement Jan. 3.

The Foreign Office was referring to a report by Mohabat News, which said Iranian police and security officials raided a private home in Tehran where “approximately 50 newly converted Christians had gathered…to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the occasion of Christmas.”

The report said government security forces “began a coordinated and pre-planned raid that resulted in the immediate on the spot arrest and several hours of interrogation of all individuals present,” including a Christian pastor of Armenian descent, the Rev. Vruir Avanessian, who suffers from kidney disease and is unlikely to get the care he needs in prison.

The British government says Iran must immediately release “any citizens who remain in prison on the basis of their faith or belief.”

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