Iranian pastor released after six years in prison

(Wikimedia Commons/In fact)Holy Mary Church in Hamadan, Iran

Pastor Behnam Irani was freed by Iranian authorities on Monday after serving a six-year prison sentence for charges related to his Christian activities.

The pastor's release has been confirmed by the advocacy group Present Truth Ministries (PTM).

"Irani has been released from prison and is now free. We thank you all for your prayers. The Lord has preserved him in a mighty way!" said PTM in a statement.

According to Prisoner Alert, Irani was first arrested and charged for crimes against national security in December 2006. The pastor was released in January 2007 but he was arrested again later. He was sentenced to five years in prison which was suspended.

In April 2010, Iranian authorities raided his house church and took him into custody. He received a one-year prison sentence which he voluntarily served in May 2011. A few months later in October, he received a letter which stated that he is now required to serve the five-year sentence which had been previously suspended.

It has been reported that Irani was in poor health and mistreated during the first few months of his sentence. In February 2012, his family revealed that he was suffering from an intestinal disorder. He was transferred to a prison hospital later that year where it was discovered that he had a bleeding ulcer.

The pastor underwent surgery for his stomach ulcers and colon complications in February 2014. Officials added another six years to his sentence in October that same year and he was transferred to another prison in the city of Zabol.

In December 2014, he appealed the decision and the court informed him that he no longer has to serve the additional six-year prison term.

According to a report from the advocacy group Release International, Irani is still in poor health after being freed. The group's CEO, Paul Robinson, was pleased about the pastor's release but he noted that there are still 200 other prisoners who have been jailed because of their faith.

"Release urges Iran to end its long-running crackdown on the church and set free all of its prisoners who are behind bars for their religious beliefs," said Robinson.



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