By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran has released a Dutch-Iranian pastor who was jailed for 359 days on charges of spreading Christianity among Farsi-speaking Iranians and relations with foreign organizations, well-informed Iranian Christians said Wednesday, August 31.
Iranian security forces detained 45-year-old Vahik Abrahamian last year in the western city of Hamadan, some 337 kilometers (210 miles) outside the capital Tehran, said Mohabat News, an independent Iranian Christian news agency of Christian rights activists.
The agency said Abrahamian was released Monday, August 29, after hundreds of days “of custody and uncertainty in the prison of Hamadan.”
It was not immediately clear what role, if any, Dutch authorities had played in his release.
However the Dutch Foreign Ministry has said in other cases of alleged human rights abuses that diplomatic intervention is often difficult as Iran refuses to recognize double nationality of Iranians.
The pastor, who belongs to Iran’s Armenian Christian community, has dual citizenship of Iran and the Netherlands but decided to stay in his native country “out of passion for Iran,” Mohabat News said.
Pastor Vahik Abrahamian and his wife Sonia Keshish Avanessian were detained in September in their home town of Hamedan. Earlier in 2010 he spent two months in jail but was temporarily released on a 10,000 dollar bail, according to Iranian Christians with close knowledge about the case.
The couple and two friends, identified only as Arash and Arezou, were initially held for 44 days in solitary confinement in the Ministry of Information’s detention center, Christians said.
They were allegedly subjected to what Christians called “intensive interrogation and severe mental and psychological torture” without permission to contact family or friends.
They were then moved to the Hamadan prison’s general ward. While his wife and the two friends were released on April 30 this year, Pastor Vahik remained jailed till Monday, August 29, several Christian sources said.
State-run media reportedly labelled the detained Christians as “Zionist Christian Evangelists”. Iranian Christians said Vahik’s health has suffered because of the unhygienic circumstances in prison and mistreatment.
Iranian officials have not commented on the case, but previously made clear that they want to defend what they consider as Islamic values. There has been concern among Iranian government officials about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic nation, BosNewsLife reported earlier.