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Christian Pastor Freed from Iranian Prison After Three Years Spent Waiting for Execution

September 10, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments
  • Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, was acquitted of apostasy charges and released with time served
  • Arrested in 2009 for questioning Muslim monopoly on religious education
  • Wanted to register home-based church
  • President Obama and European leaders lobbied Iran to release pastor
  • Nearly three million people voiced support for Nadarkhani on Twitter

An Iranian Christian pastor who was originally sentenced to death for holding on to his faith in the Islamic fundamentalist country was acquitted of apostasy charges and released from prison on Saturday.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, spent three years behind bars waiting to be executed to refusing to renounce Christianity. His charges were lowered to evangelizing to Muslims, which carried a three-year sentence.

He was released from custody 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.

‘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.

‘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 arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009 soon after calling into question the Muslim monopoly on religious education of children, which he felt was unconstitutional, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity at age 19, also wanted to register a home-based church.

He was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the country’s Supreme Court in 2011.

Although the Iranian penal code did not specify death for apostasy, a constitutional loophole allowed judges to refer to Sharia law to justify such a sentence.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Nadarkhani may face new, unspecified charges during the Saturday hearing, but he was instead released.

Nadarkhani’s attorney, who also has been jailed, said that that the married father of two faced the death penalty because he refused to renounce his faith.

A breakthrough in the pastor’s case signalling a likely positive outcome came earlier this year when an Iranian diplomat told a United Nations panel that Nadarkhani would not be executed.

The ACLJ worked with the State Department to try to spring Nadarkhani free, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this year condemning his imprisonment and calling for his immediate release.

Nearly three million people have voiced support for Nadarkhani online through the ‘Tweet for Youcef’ campaign.

President Barack Obama, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the governments of Germany, Britain and France, had all called on the Iranian government to release Nadarkhani, according to the Jerusalem Post.

While the ACLJ praised the pastor’s release, the organization was quick to point out that it was international attention to the high-profile case that forced Iranian officials to release him, and that the Middle Eastern country is poised to continue its pattern of religious suppression.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has classifies Iran as a ‘country of concern’ since 1999.
 SNEJANA FARBEROV

Spetember 10, 2012
Related link – http://tinyurl.com/8fb8r6e
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