By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian pastor jailed for 54 days on charges of “converting Muslims” to Christianity, spent Easter in freedom this weekend after he was temporary released on bail along with several other believers, Iranian Christians and rights investigators said.
Reverend Wilson Issavi of the Assyrian Evangelical Church of Kermanshah in Isfahan, some 340 kilometers (212 miles) south of the capital Tehran, was freed Sunday, March 28, added Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), which represents Christians in Iran.
Isaavi, who Christians say could face the death penalty or at least life imprisonment, reportedly “thanked the Lord” for his temporary freedom. He said in published remarks that he awaits “a review” of his charges by a court.
State Security agents detained the 65-year-old pastor in Isfahan on February 2 for allegedly converting Muslims to Christianity, a crime in strict Islamic Iran, FCNN said.
There has been international concern about his situation after his wife, Medline Nazanin, recently was quoted as saying that he had “visible marks of torture” when she visited him in prison.
Middle East Concern (MEC), a major rights group, said several other believers in the capital Tehran and the areas of Karaj and Shiraz have also been released in recent weeks, including some Christians with a Muslim background.
But the advocacy group Barnabas Fund, which investigates the plight of Christians in Islamic nations, expressed concerns over reports that other ex-Muslims remain detained, including evangelical church leaders Hamid Shafiee and his wife Reyhaneh Aghajary of a church in Isfahan.
Barnabas Fund said the couple has been held since February 28 when they were seen “handcuffed at their home as officers conducted a search, claiming to have orders from the local court.”
After Reyhaneh protested against her arrest, officers allegedly verbally and physically assaulted the woman and attacked her with pepper spray.
They also “confiscated Bibles, books, Compact Disks and computers,” Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.
POLITICAL SECURITY WING
Reyhaneh is reportedly held in what Christians call “the political security wing” of the nearby Dastgard prison and Christians said she began a hunger strike in protest against her alleged mistreatment by prison officers.
Hamid’s location and condition were not immediately known Saturday, April 2.
The couple, who converted from Islam, have been active in evangelism in Isfahan, according to FCNN and other Christian sources. “Despite official pressure, they have refused to deny their faith,” observed Barnabas Fund.
The perceived hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under international pressure to improve religious rights and abandon his nuclear program. He has denied wrongdoing.
Elam Ministries, an organization supporting churches in Iran, has linked the crackdown on Christians to concern among Iran’s leaders about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic nation. The group said recently that 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 Iran the group said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).