After serving a little over one year of his three-year sentence for “collusion against the government” and “evangelism,” Iranian pastor Rasoul Abdollahi has been released from prison.
Abdollahi, a leader in Iran’s house church movement, who was arrested December 26th, 2010, was released from Evin prison on February 16th of this year. He was arrested on the same day as a number of other Christians during a widespread government crackdown on church activity.
According to the agency Middle East Concern, his release is provisional, involving strict conditions preventing him from participating in Christian activities; any violation will result in his re-arrest and requirement to serve out his original sentence.
Initially arrested by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in December 2010, he was detained and interrogated for two months before being released on bail, and then in December 2013, he was sentenced to three years in prison. Abdollahi, along with Rev. Farshid Fathi and other Christians sentenced at the same time, was then incarcerated in Evin Prison, Tehran.
Rev. Fathi is still in prison. Born into a Muslim family in Iran, Fathi became a Christian at age 17. By the time of his arrest in 2010, he was working full-time as a pastor and leading a network of house churches in Iran. Now 35, he has been separated from his wife and two young children since Christmas 2010.
In 2012, after 15 months in detention without a trial, Fathi was sentenced to six years in the notorious Evin prison. In April 2014, Fathi suffered a fractured foot and toe after being beaten by security officials during a raid on political prisoners in Evin. In December of last year, the court added an additional year in prison to Fathi’s sentence.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has publicly declared that “after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there is no record of aggression by Muslims against non-Muslims” according to Iranian-funded Press TV.
Iranian Christian New Agency Mohabat News quoted Khamenei as saying:
“Such treatment of non-Muslims is non-existent in the history of our Islamic regime. Even our hot-headed conservative youth do not allow themselves to attack a non-Muslim… based on Islamic teachings, followers of other religions should be treated with justice and fairness… Muslims in Europe and America face death threats. There is a great propaganda campaign against them, and their places of worship are under constant attack.”
Khamenei was speaking at a meeting in the Islamic Parliament with members of Iran’s recognized religious minority (RRMs). RRMs include Christians from ethnic Armenian, Assyrians and Chaldeans minority groups, as well as Jews and Zoroastrians. Religious minorities in Iran are classified into two categories: recognized and unrecognized. Unrecognized minorities are individuals who were previously Muslim and chose to leave Islam.
Unrecognized minorities are considered to have committed apostasy (i.e. rejection of Islam by a Muslim). In Sharia law courts, apostasy is punishable by a death sentence for men and life in prison for women.
Khamenei’s claims of Iran’s religious freedom and tolerance of people of all faiths ignores recurring evidence of intolerance. Large numbers of religious minorities have been imprisoned and executed since the establishment of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Estimates from evidence provided by the American Center for Law and Justice, Article 18, and Middle East Concern, suggest that as of December 2014, there were 92 Christians detained in Iranian prisons, only 13 of whom were serving court-issued formal sentences.
This injustice has been experienced by RRMs such as Armenian Christians Sevada Aghasar and Allen Dirigorosiyan, and Assyrian pastor Victor Beth Tarmez, as well as by unrecognized religious minorities such as Pastors Rasoul Abdollahi and Farshid Fathi, born into Muslim families and therefore considered apostates for renouncing Islamic beliefs.
Several UN special reports and resolutions have condemned the violation of the rights of religious minorities.
According to the 2015 World Watch List by Open Doors, Iran ranks seventh (up two points from last year) among the top ten countries in which Christians experience the worst persecution. The driving force behind persecution in Iran, according to the World Watch List, is “Islamic extremism” and Christians from an Islamic background are even more severely targeted. Increasing numbers of Farsi [Persian] speaking churches have been forced to close, some of which have been established for decades and, a few, for centuries. This is a new development in the history of the church in Iran, stated the World Watch List.
“Expectations were high when President Rouhani took office in 2013. However, his powers are limited, and in the short run, no concrete changes are expected for religious minorities” says Open Doors.
Mohabat News reports that even Sunni Muslims cannot enjoy the least amount of freedom under the Iranian regime. As with Christians and other religious minorities, Sunnis are not permitted to build a mosque of their own in Tehran, the capital.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we rejoice in the release of Rasoul Abdollahi and pray for him as he returns to his family and seeks how to live his life in light of the restrictions placed upon him. We pray for both wisdom and courage as he serves You in the midst of persecution. We pray for the safety of Rasoul and his family, and that Your Word will encourage and guide them in the path they should follow. We pray for Farshid Fathi and others who remain in prison; that Your Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit within them will refresh them with the grace to meet each new day and the hardship they bring with faithful courage. In the name of Jesus, who has set us free from the bondage of sin and death, Amen.