An Iranian Christian sentenced to 10 years in prison has been released after eleven months behind bars.
Mostafa Bordbar, 27, was released Nov. 3 from Tehran’s Evin Prison after the court overturned his conviction of participating in an “anti-security organization”, and “gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security.”Bordbar, who was arrested in December of last year during Christmas celebrations with friends, had been sentenced in July. The Oct. 30 appeals court hearing cleared him of all charges.
At a similar hearing on Oct. 12, however, the appeals court in Shiraz denied the appeals of four other Christian men. Following their Feb. 2012 arrest during a house church raid, Mojtaba Seyyed Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei, Vahid Hakkani and Homayoun Shokouhi were each sentenced in June of this year to three years and eight months in prison on the charges of spreading Christianity, disrupting national security, propaganda against the regime and contact with foreign agencies. Along with two others who had been arrested and charged at the same time, they immediately appealed that decision. Though the four men lost their appeals, the other two appellants, Shokouhi’s wife Fariba and their son Nima, received suspended sentences of their two-year imprisonment at the same October hearing.
Iran has come under increasing pressure from the international community to improve its human rights record, including its high number of political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, such as the more than 40 Christians behind bars and a similar number awaiting trial. In September the international community welcomed news of the release of two Christians. Mitra Rahmati and Maryam Jalili, who were nearing the end of their sentences, were released just ahead of new President Hassan Rouhani’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, took to Twitter on Sept. 18 to hail the release of prisoners from Iran’s jails. “But it’s far from enough,” she wrote. “Those missing or unjustly detained, including Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Bob Levinson, must be returned home.”
Hekmati is awaiting retrial in Iran on espionage charges. Levinson was kidnapped in Iran in 2007 and is believed to be in government custody. Meanwhile, Abedini, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen and pastor serving eight years in prison for his humanitarian work, has written to Rouhani asking for justice and freedom.
At least 300 Christians have been arrested in the past three years in Iran, the most common charges being actions against public security and propaganda against the regime. Many of these Christians were arrested during gatherings of “house churches,” small meetings of Christians who gather to worship and pray together.
“In bringing about these charges against Christians, both the government and the judiciary have made an error of law and fact because Christian gatherings either at homes or churches are mainly formed for Christians to worship together and to read and study the Bible, not to change the regime, and they do not have a goal of any political activity. So these are wrong judgments,” human rights lawyer Attieh Fard told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month.
Fard urged Rouhani to make good on his promises to the U.N. in New York by releasing the 42 Christians known to be in jail and the 45 awaiting trial. Bordbar’s victory in court offers only partial hope for change since it comes only one week after four other Iranian Christians lost their own appeals, having been convicted of similar charges.
Father, thank You for the release of Mostafa, Fariba and Nima following their appeals. But we pray for the many who remain in prison because of their faith in Christ. There have been promises from the government, but only You are faithful, Lord, and so we turn to You to soften the hearts of Iranian leaders, including President Rohani, to fulfill those promises and release the prisoners. Keep them safe, grant them patience and courage, give them opportunities to share Your gospel. In the name of Jesus who is raising up His church in Iran. Amen.