Iran (MNN) — Christians constantly have a target on their backs in Iran, which leads to unfair and drawn out imprisonments. But right now, believers are celebrating the release of Iranian Pastor Farshid Fathi, reports Voice of the Martyrs USA (VOM).
“We are overjoyed and celebrating,” David Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries told Bos News Life.
The pastor was released Monday from Rajaei-Shahr prison nearly five years after being arrested for his faith. Open Doors USA reports the release comes “just six months after he failed to appeal to a sentence to an extra year in jail and 74 lashes for allegedly possessing two liters of alcohol in his prison cell.”
Fathi had been serving a 6-year sentence (which was later extended to 7 years) after being found guilty for “action against the regime’s security, being in contact with foreign organizations, and religious propaganda.”
While his release was set to be December 2017, prison officials told him earlier this year he would be released this December.
At 17, Fathi abandoned the Muslim faith to become a Christian, a full-time pastor, and house church leader–something virtually illegal in Iran. According to Iranian state, only Armenians and Assyrians can be Christians.
In October 2010, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, declared house churches should be “dealt with.” Soon after came a crackdown of surveillance and arrests, pushing numerous believers into prison without fair trials. Pastors, church leaders, and converts were specifically pointed out, including Fathi.
On December 26, 2010, Fathi was arrested along with about 60 other Christians, most of whom have been released, according to World Watch Monitor.
The 35-year-old father of two waited in Evin Prison for 15 months without a trial. In January 2012, he was tried, but no details were released. And that following March, he and a member of the Church of Iran, Alireza Seyyadian, were transferred to Rajaei Shahr prison. Seyyadian was released in August of this year.
After five years and two different prisons, Fathi endured severe beatings and threats, but said he hadn’t given up hope. Bos News Life cited a recent letter he had written to fellow believers: “I am experiencing that He is with us, with me and my children, with me and with my faithful friends who are having part in my sorrows and [are] not ashamed of my sorrows.”
How you can help
Celebrations of Pastor Fathi’s release ring in the air, and hopes are high that he will be able to join his family in Canada who were offered protection in 2013. But many more believers remain in Iranian prisons.
In May of this year, around 90 believers were detained because of their faith, according to the American Center for Law and Justice. They are enduring the same beatings and threats Pastor Fathi went through. They need hope and encouragement.
VOM is praying for and encouraging persecuted believers to stay strong in Christ. They’re helping through provision of Bibles, ministry resources, and aid.
With your prayer and financial support, they want to continue uplifting persecuted believers. Remind Iranian Christians what their fight for faith means this Christmas.