By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran’s strict Islamic regime has released from prison one of three ex-Muslims who embraced Christianity, their supporters say. Two other Christian converts are also expected to be freed from the same jail in the south-west of the country, added advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
“Iranian Christians are very pleased that Asghar Salehi has been given early release” from Eghlid Prison, MEC told BosNewsLife. “It is expected, fellow prisoners Mohammadreza Rezaei and A.T. will also be released soon.”
In December, the Christians began serving a half year prison sentence on charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran through promoting Zionist Christianity,” MEC recalled. “All three Christians applied for a pardon…Early release was granted after only two months of the six-month sentences,” MEC said.
Salehi was freed on February 2, and the other two converts were due for release Saturday, February 8, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Friends were reportedly surprised and cautioned that such an amnesty was unlikely to be granted in larger cities and to many other jailed Christians.
MEC, which is supporting the three Christian converts, recalled that the converts troubles began in September 2018 when “Iranian intelligence agents raided” their homes “arresting them and three others.”
Rezaei was then interrogated for three days, being kept blindfolded for most of the time, MEC claimed. “He was then transferred to Eghlid prison for a further eight days. He was released on bail after submitting a business license as a guarantee.”
But later, the three Christian converts were summoned to a court hearing at Branch 101 of Eghlid Criminal Court in April last year. They were then charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” trial observers said.
The judge refused to allow Asghar Salehi to speak, MEC said. The court was also “warning him he was being monitored and that he would have to agree to stop all Christian activities,” MEC added.
In September 2019, the three men were summoned again to the same court. On September 22, the three were reportedly sentenced to six months in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran through promoting Zionist Christianity”.
The sentences were upheld on appeal.
Iranian authorities have defended their policies, saying those targeted violate Islamic law and are a threat to national security.
MEC cited Iranian Christians as saying they are “thankful,” the three men have been granted early release. But they “asked prayers” that Rezaei and A.T “will be released on Saturday without any problems and that their families will rejoice at being reunited.”
It was also crucial to pray that “their faith in the Lord Jesus will be strengthened through this experience” and that “Iranian authorities will stop their persecution of Christian converts and other religious communities,” Iranian Christians said in published remarks.
Their prayer appeal came amid claims by mission groups that at least hundreds of thousands of Iranians, many of them Muslims, have embraced Christianity in recent years to escape strict Islamic rules.
Officially, Christians comprise less than 0.3 percent of Iran’s mainly Muslim population of roughly 85 million people, according to estimates cited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).