On Friday, Iranian authorities rearrested an Iranian pastor who was once sentenced to death by hanging for renouncing Islam and converting to Christianity.
According to U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Youcef Nadarkhani, 38, was arrested along with his wife, Tina Pasandide Nadarkhani, and a fellow church member, Yasser Mosayebzadeh, and two others in his house church. He and his wife were reportedly interrogated for several hours before being released later that same day.
The status of the other three Iranian Christians is still unclear.
Nadarkhani was first arrested in 2009, charged with apostasy and sentenced to death the following year. Breitbart News had previously reported:
Police arrested the then-32-year-old pastor in 2009 when he publicly protested the constitutionality of compulsory Islamic education for Iranian children. His accusers claimed in 2011 that he had been charged with rape and extortion. However, the Supreme Court opinion of his case referenced only the crimes of “turning his back on Islam” and “converting Muslims to Christianity.”
During the three years he served in prison on the charge of apostasy, Nadarkhani was asked to recant on his Christian faith and return to Islam.
Under Islamic law, men and women are considered adults at the age of 15. Also in Islam, a person who has left the religion is provided with three chances to return to it.
According to Articles 12 and 13 of the Iranian Constitution, all branches of Islam and Christianity have the right to worship, as do Jews and Zoroastrians, within the limits of the law there. However, converting away from Islam to any other religion is considered haram, or forbidden, and in many cases, could result in execution.
The Christian Post notes that in June of 2010, authorities also arrested Tina to pressure Youcef to convert back to Islam and threatened that their two sons would be taken away and given to a Muslim family. Nadarkhani was given the option to convert back to Islam and asked to declare Muhammad a prophet, both of which he refused to do. He and wife remained firm in their convictions to maintain their Christian faith.
He remained in prison until his release in September of 2012 after a court in his hometown of Rasht acquitted him of apostasy. Yet, he was found guilty on charges of evangelizing Muslims, for which he was sentenced to an additional three years in prison. Since he had reportedly already completed a three-year sentence, he was released after he posted bail.
However, just three months later, on Christmas Day of the same year, Nadarkhani was rearrested by the director of the same prison where he had served three years, on orders that he must complete the remainder of the three-year-sentence. He was again released in January of 2013.
This past Christmas, several Christians were arrested and some non-Christian prisoners were executed. That same day, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent out Christmas Eve and Christmas Day tweets in which he sang words of love and admiration for Jesus Christ and called on people to “truly honor Jesus’s birthday.”
Iran’s crackdown on Christians and converts away from Islam continues.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.