Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. — 1 Peter 4:16.
For the past year and a half, Beginning and End has covered the persecution of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was arrested in 2009 and imprisoned with a death sentence for pastoring an underground house church in Iran and violating the Iranian government’s apostasy laws. After years of international pressure and prayers from Christians all over the world, the Iranian courts have now dropped all charges against Nadarkhani and have released him from prison. Multiple reports have confirmed the story:
Two organizations that have closely been monitoring the case and have sources in Iran reported Saturday that Nadarkhani, who went on trial early Saturday, has been released from prison and is at home with his family.
“Thank you to everyone that has supported me with your prayers,” Nadarkhani said, according to Present Truth Ministries.
Though acquitted of apostasy, the Iranian pastor was found guilty of evangelizing Muslims. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment but was released because he already served this time.
“We give thanks to God for His deliverance and the answer to our prayers,” Jason DeMars, founder of Present Truth Ministries, said in a statement. (source)
Nadarkhani’s initial brush with the law came in 2009 after he protested a new law in the Gilan province of Iran, where he is from, that required all children to read and learn the Koran in school. Nadarkhani, who has 2 children, went to the school administrator’s to protest the requirement citing the Iranian constitution which “guarantees” religious freedom. He was arrested by the Iranian secret police for protesting but the charges were soon changed to apostasy (leaving the Islamic faith) and evangelism (sharing the Christian faith with Muslims). Both charges carry a death sentence under Iranian law. Nadarkhani’s death sentence was upheld by Iranian Supreme Court in 2011. The court records stated his violations:
“He has often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity. He has been accused of breaking Islamic Law that from puberty (15 years according to Islamic law) until the age of 19 the year 1996, he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home.
“During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim. During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir–olvasileh.” (source)
The Christian pastor’s case led to a large outpouring of international support by public officials and prayers by Christians worldwide for the release of Nadarkhani. The case became so high-profile that even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned it in a speech imploring the Iranian government to set Nadarkhani free. A twitter campaign on his behalf garnered 3 million followers.
At an appeal hearing in September 2011, Nadarkhani was given the chance to be set free and have all charges dropped if he would renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. The married pastor and father of 3 refused to deny his faith and thus he remained in prison. The Iranian authorities even arrested Nadarkhani’s wife and had her imprisoned to help coerce the pastor to recant but Mrs. Nadarkhani won her case on appeal and was later freed.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an advocacy group that has been supporting Nadarkhani and monitoring the case closely issued a statement:
“We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law,” said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas. “While we rejoice at this wonderful news, 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 as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.” (source).
The Struggle Continues
Continue in prayer to give thanks to God for setting Pastor Nadarkhani free and for giving him the faith to stand strong for Jesus, even in the face of death. And pray for the other pastors who are still incarcerated in Iranian prisons just for being Christians for their safety and their faith to remain strong. At present, Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, is currently imprisoned and faces a 9-year sentence for defending persecuted Christians in human rights cases. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) issued a statement on Dadkhah’s behalf:
“It is important to remember that after the press subsides on Pastor Youcef’s story, his lawyer, a dedicated servant, remains under this threat. Numerous human rights lawyers in Iran are already imprisoned. We will continue to speak out on the numerous human rights abuses in Iran, including those that the attorneys who defend prisoners of conscience face,” the ACLJ said of Dadkhah, who legally represented Nadarkhani at his Sept. 8 hearing. (source).
The earthly price of being a Christian gets higher day by day. Many, many Christians worldwide are risking their lives to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the world increases its persecution against believers, pray your faith will not waver as well.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. — Psalm 40:1-3.