Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News) — An Armenian Christian and two former Muslims who were among possibly dozens of Christians detained in Iran since last month were free Monday, February 9, after authorities unexpectedly released them, Christians said.
Middle East Concern (MEC), an advocacy group closely monitoring the case, told Worthy News that Armenian Christian Hamik Khachikian was released after one week's detention, while Nadereh Jamali, a believer from a Muslim background, was released "on bail after two weeks' detention."
Christians said later Monday, February 9 that her husband Jamal Ghalishorani, 49, was also released. They were among at least least ten Christians who were detained in the capital Tehran on January 21, and they could still face charges, Christians warned.
Outside the capital some 40 other Christians are believed to have been captured by Iranian authorities, in most cases for abandoning Islam. Their whereabouts remained unclear Monday, February 9.
At least one Christian has reportedly been charged with "sacrilege", but authorities have given no explanation what they regard as sacrilege, MEC said.
In addition several believers arrested and released in 2008 are still waiting to be informed of the dates of court hearings, the group added. "Previous cases suggest that some may never receive a hearing date and that their cases might end quietly, though sometimes without the return of bail money. Others may be informed of hearing dates that are then repeatedly rescheduled."
There has been concern however over an intense crackdown on Christian converts, after Iranian's parliament approved legislation that would make "apostasy", or leaving Islam, a capital offense for both men and women.
One of Iran's leading Protestant pastors, Hussein Soodman, was already executed in December 1990 for converting from Islam to Christianity, after an Islamic court condemned him. Hussein Soodman, an Assemblies of God pastor, had been involved in Christian activities for 24 years, Christians said. He was reportedly hanged on December 3, 1990, as part of a wave of repression directed against the small Christian community in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The law currently debated still awaits approval of the Guardians Council, which investigates all legislation for compliance with Islamic principles and authorization by the "Supreme Leader".
MEC said that Iranian Christians have requested that those detained for their faith "will know the Lord's presence and enabling in prison and will be released soon" and that others released on bail will also "know the Spirit's guiding in their return to normal living."
Iranian Christians have also been praying that, "the ongoing wave of arrests will end", will know God's guidance during upcoming court hearings and that, "All officials involved will hear the good news of Jesus."
It comes ahead of upcoming elections in Iran, which rights groups hope will lead to more political and religious freedoms. Former President Mohammad Khatami, who favors closer ties with the West, could give hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a serious challenge, analysts say.
The 65-year old Khatami, who announced his presidential candidacy Sunday, February 8, already favored more social and political freedom as president from 1997 to 2005. However it is unclear whether his reforms would immediately benefit minority Christians, as the Islamic Guardians Council is expected to remain powerful in this strict Islamic nation.
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