By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian house-church leader has been released after spending 560 days in prison “because of his Christian faith,” Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife Thursday, Wednesday 19.
Noorollah Qabitizade, a 48-year-old Christian convert, was released Monday, July 17, from Karoon prison in the southwestern city of Ahwaz after an order by judicial authorities of Khuzestan province, said Mohabat News, a well-informed news agency of activists and Iranian Christians.
He was reportedly detained on Christmas Eve 2010 along with 10 other Christian converts while celebrating Christmas in a house church in his home city of Dezful.
Security authorities allegedly attacked their meeting and hand-cuffed and blind-folded him.
During his detention, which included being moved to several locations, the Christian was subjected to what Mohabat News called “numerous interrogation sessions” that also included “severe mental torture and solitary confinement” in an apparent effort to pressure him to abandon his Christian faith.
“The mental torture ranged from forcing him to sign a disclaimer stating that he would stop evangelizing, to writing a letter denouncing his Christian faith,” Mohabat News said.
Iranian Christians said he eventually faced a trial on September 2011 at an Ahwaz court, where he was brought with his hands and feet in chains.
He was also told that he was going to be sentenced to death in that session of his trial, according to trial observers.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Iranian authorities to release him, but the country has come under international pressure as another house church pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, was sentenced to death on charges of “apostasy” or abandoning Islam.
Tehran has not commented on his freedom.
Iranian Christians said Qabitizade’s was part of a wider crackdown as over 60 Christians, mainly house church members, were also detained during police raids in 2010, amid concerns within the leadership of the strict Islamic nation about the spread of Christianity. .
Families of Qabitizade and other Christians were reportedly also informed that the charges against them included the death-sentence carrying charge of “apostasy” as well as “promoting Christianity” and keeping “contacts with Christian organizations” and house-churches.
Government officials, including Tehran Governor Morteza Tamadon were quoted as saying in media that detained Christians were “extreme propagators” who enter the “body of Islam” like “corrupted and deviated ones”.
He also pledged to increase the pressure on, and detain, especially evangelical Christians, Mohabat News reported.
Additionally, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned against the growth of house churches along other non Muslim groups. Iranian Christians say there is a growing crackdown on churches, including on established denominations, who were so far able to operate somewhat more freely.
Iranian security forces have canceled some Farsi-language church services and closed some churches in Iran, Christians said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).