By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News
)– The wife of a prominent evangelical pastor in Iran was free Monday, October 18, after four months of detention, but her husband still faced the death penalty for abandoning Islam, the Church of Iran said.
Fatemeh Passandideh, the wife of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, was released October 11 by a court in Gilan province, in northern Iran, an official linked to the Church of Iran told Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife.
“The release of Fatemeh Passandideh comes ten days after the announcement of the death sentence for her husband Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” he said, speaking on earlier agreed conditions of anonymity, amid security concerns.
Pastor Nadarkhani was convicted of “apostasy”, or leaving Islam, last month by the 11th Chamber of the Assize Court of the province of Gilan. The pastor’s attorney is expected to file an appeal against the ruling after he reportedly found “serious procedural flaws” in the case.
Christians have expressed concerns about the case as the couple has two young sons. It comes amid reports of growing pressure on the Church of Iran, a Protestant movement which includes several underground house churches in the strict Islamic nation.
The church says it has been “the subject of a campaign of persecution, unprecedented since the advent of the [Islamic] revolution” in 1979, which saw the overthrow of Iran’s monarchy and its replacement with an Islamic republic under revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
“Several members of the movement have been arrested since October 2009 among them [also] pastor Behrouz Khandjani, who is still in isolation in the sinister “plate 100” [prison] of Shiraz [area].”
Christian observers have said the “elimination of religious minorities” has become a national priority. The pressure on the Church of Iran comes at a time of violent attacks against Christians, according to church groups.
Elam Ministries, a major mission group of Iranian church leaders, said it knows of at least one young Iranian Christian from a Muslim background who has died in recent weeks of injuries sustained when he was severely beaten by a relative.
The relative allegedly took exception to the “commitment to Jesus” of the man, who activists say leaves behind a wife and two young children. His name was not released.
Middle East Concern (MEC), a rights group with follows reports of Christian persecution, told BosNewsLife that other Christians also face persecution as at least three of 15 Christians detained in July in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, remain detained and are “under pressure pressure to recant their faith but are refusing to do so.”
Additionally in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran’s Khuzestan province, an assistant pastor remains in custody after having been arrested during a raid on his home on July 24, MEC said. “His wife and young daughter were arrested with him and detained briefly,” MEC added.
The names of those detained were not immediately released amid security concerns.
MEC also cited a report on Iranian state television that in early September, nine believers were detained in Hamedan, the capital of Hamadan province, on charges of evangelism, which potentially carries the death penalty under strict laws in Iran.
Iran’s government has reportedly expressed concern about the spread of Christianity among Muslims.
Elam Ministries said in 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran.
“Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation.”
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