Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Freed: A Victory for Religious Liberty, but More is Needed
World Magazine is reporting that the Iranian pastor threatened with death has been freed:
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reports that condemned Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been acquitted of apostasy charges and released from an Iranian prison.
The acquittal comes nearly three years after Iranian authorities jailed Nadarkhani on charges of apostasy against Islam and sentenced the pastor to death by hanging.
The ACLJ - a Florida-based Christian advocacy group with close ties to Nadarkhani - reported that the pastor appeared in an Iranian court on Saturday for another hearing on the charges brought against him: "His hearing lasted almost six hours. But in the end, he was released and able to return home to his family."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has tweeted a touching picture of him embracing his wife after his release.
Christianity Today recently reported (on Youcef's 1000th day of imprisonment):
The U.S. State Department repeated its call for the Iranian government to release Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who was sentenced to death after refusing to recant his Christian faith in the presence of a court on multiple occasions.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that Iran continues to deny the human rights of the pastor and others who belong to religious minorities in Iran.
"July 8 marked 1,000 days Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has spent in an Iranian prison," Nuland said in a press statement. "Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith, and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately."
President Obama's administration has released two statements in the past year advocating for the pastor's release.
Nadarkhani was arrested and imprisoned in October 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. He was condemned for committing moharebeh, which is translated as "apostasy" or "enmity against God." Each year hundreds of people are executed in Iran, of which dozens are killed for moharebeh.
Bob Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, recruited me to a bit of a Twitter campaign. American evangelicals have continued to bring pressure (along with many others) because they stand for the rights of people to share their faith with others. The Christian Post reported on our little Twitter campaign explaining:
Christian leaders have launched a Twitter campaign to save Said Musa, an Afghan who is awaiting execution for converting to Christianity from Islam...
On Sunday, Rick Warren, named as one of the top 20 Twitter celebrities by Forbes, brought attention to how the media has underreported Musa's story.
"Media CLAIM to champion free speech but if they really did, they'd report these stories everyday," Warren told his 245,653 Twitter followers...
Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Dallas was among the 100-plus people who re-tweeted a message from Christian Hip Hop artist Shai Linn that asked for prayers for Musa...
"No man should die b/c (because) he wants to change religion," posted Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, in a re-tweeted message. He also put in a hash tag for "barackobama" and asked others to re-tweet.
These kinds of situations remind me of the importance of being about to evangelize and the religious freedom that requires. I wrote about that in an article for Christianity Today called, " Proselytization in a Multifaith World." Apostasy laws, like the one used against Youcef Nadarkhani, remind us of the lack of religious freedom in much of the Muslim world.
Until predominantly Muslim countries are willing to sign (and adhere to) the religious freedom laid out in Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must continue to press them for religious liberty. We must press for a world where, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief..." (Article 18, Univeral Declaration of Human Rights).