By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An evangelical pastor of one of Iran’s largest house church movements, who faced a death sentence for apostasy before being acquitted, was again detained Friday, May 13, along with his wife and another church member, Christian rights activists told BosNewsLife.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted and released in 2012 amid international pressure after several years in prison, “was arrested today in Iran along with his wife, Tina Pasandide Nadarkhani, and fellow church member Yasser Mosayebzadeh,” confirmed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group closely following the case.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group is “deeply concerned by these developments and await further clarification regarding the reasons for these arrests.” Unfortunately, he said, “it is not uncommon for Christians who have been arrested on account of their religious beliefs to be released and re-arrested time and again, in a tactic designed to foster a sense of insecurity within the community.”
He added that CSW had urged the authorities of the strict Islamic country to “ensure Pastor Nadarkhani,
Tina Nadarkhani and Yasser Mosayebzadeh receive due process, and once again call on Iran to fully respect its constitutional and international human rights obligations by ensuring that justice and equality before the law are guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of their religion or belief.”
The arrest also came amid fresh concerns Friday, May 13, over the health of Church of Iran Pastor Behnam Irani, who has been behind bars since 2011 on what his supporters view as trumped-up charges linked to his Christian activities. “He is still in prison and now he is suffering from an unknown sickness, he is coughing, sometimes he will cough for 5 to 10 minutes straight,” said Present Truth Ministries (PTM), a mission group supporting the pastor.
“The doctor in the prison is unsure what it is and hasn’t given brother Behnam adequate care. It may be an allergy and it may be asthma, but he has been give no medication.” The group urged its supporters to, “Pray for his complete and total healing.”
It was not immediately clear Friday, May 13, if and for how long Pastor Nadarkhani and the others will have to remain behind bars. This this is not the first time he has been detained since his release from prison in September 2012, Christians said.
On Christmas Day 2012 he was reportedly detained on the orders of the director of Lakan prison, where he had been held, ostensibly to serve the remainder of a three-year sentence. He was released once again on 7 January 2013.
Pastor Nadarkhani was initially detained in 2009 after going to his children’s school to question what he saw as the Muslim monopoly on Iranian education, which he believed was unconstitutional.
He was charged with “apostasy”, the word used for abandoning Islam, and sentenced to death in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011.
The pastor was repeatedly asked to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ during court hearings in order to avoid the death penalty, but refused, several sources told BosNewsLife.
He was released from prison following his acquittal on apostasy charges, but was found guilty on charges of evangelizing Muslims, for which he received a three-year sentence.
After Pastor Nadarkhani’s release, his legal counsel, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer, was jailed for ten years and disbarred in September 2012 for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime” and keeping banned books in his home. He was also banned from practising or teaching law for ten years. The pastor was later released on stringent conditions, Christians said.
Islamic leaders have expressed concern about the spread of Christianity in the country, and several officials are known to promote a crackdown on house churches at a time when an increasing number of Muslims reportedly turn to faith in Christ.