By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iran has freed evangelical pastor Farshid Fathi after he spent five years in prison for his faith, fellow Christian workers said early Tuesday, December 22.
"We are overjoyed and celebrating!" about Monday's release, added David Yeghnazar, executive director of Christian mission group Elam Ministries. His group, founded by Iranian church leaders, had been closely following the case and Yeghnazar said they were "deeply grateful" for the "faithful prayers for Farshid while he has been in prison."
Elam Ministries has urged Christians to "continue praying for Farshid today and in the coming weeks" and to "pray especially for protection, his family and his adjustment to life outside prison," Yeghnazar explained.
Fathi, 36, has spent mostly behind bars since December 2010 when he was detained as part of a reported crackdown on Christians before New Year celebrations. The pastor, whose full name is also spelled as Farshid Fathi Malayeri, has been jailed on charges including “actions against national security,” “cooperating with foreign organisations” and “evangelism”.
Iranian Christians say he was persecuted for his open expression of Christian faith, such as leading an 'Assemblies of God' (AoG) congregation part of a larger Pentecostal denomination.
Authorities also charged the pastor with possessing "religious propaganda" after he had Bibles printed in the Farsi language and "unlawfully" distributed them, as well as possessing Christian literature, trial observers told BosNewsLife.
It was not immediately clear whether the pastor would be able to join his wife and two children who were offered asylum in Canada in 2013. However in earlier letters obtained by BosNewsLife he said God had been watching over him and his family.
While behind bars he wrote that "the beauty of Christmas or the signs of Christmas can not be found in [this] prison, but with the ears of faith I can hear the everlasting and beautiful truth that: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Despite reportedly enduring abuse in Iran's notorious Evin Prison and later Rajai Shahr prison outside Tehran, he said he had not given up hope. "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," he wrote in a recent letter distributed by fellow believers.
"May in the year of 2015, which I have named the year of victory, God carry you ahead victoriously [as] He spreads the aroma of His knowledge, because we are called to be free," the pastor added, ending his message with "Merry Christmas."
Though Fathi will now be free this Christmas, several other Iranian Christians remain detained.
Iranian authorities have been cracking down on especially growing evangelical congregations and house churches, expressing concerns about spreading Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.
Christian converts with a Muslim background are especially targeted by authorities, BosNewsLife established.
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