Iranian pastor acquitted of apostasy, released from prison

TEHRAN — The Iranian pastor who was sentenced to death for apostasy, has been released from prison after spending more than 1,000 days in prison and facing a death sentence refusing to recant his faith.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was brought to court Saturday morning and was acquitted of apostasy. The court found him guilty of evangelizing Muslims and was sentenced to three years imprisonment but released for the time he already had served.

The pastor had been expected to face new charges Saturday for unspecified crimes, but after the six hour hearing he was released.

"CSW is delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani's release after a long incarceration," said CSW's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas. "We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law."

"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," continued Thomas.

The case began in 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals.

In 2011 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim — a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.

In September 2011, Nadarkhani was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time.

ACLJ reported one of his court exchanges.

"Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" Nadarkhani asked.

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge reportedly replied.

"I cannot," the pastor responded.