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Even after winning asylum in US, Iranian Christian convert lives in fear

youcef in prison

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been freed - yet again - from an Iranian prison.

An Iranian man recently granted asylum in the U.S. after converting from Islam to Christianity told FoxNews.com he still fears the long arm of the rogue regime in Tehran.

The man, whose name is being withheld, said he fears hardline Muslims could come after him, even in the U.S. The regime in Tehran has recently vowed to "hunt down" the makers of an anti-Islam film trailer and has upped the price on novelist Salman Rushdie's head for offending the religion. Because apostasy - renouncing Islam - is punishable by death, the man told FoxNews.com he lives in fear.

"If I want to go to a Christian church in Iran the secret police will recognize and arrest me since they will check my background and know that I was a Muslim."

- Iranian Christian convert who recently won asylum

"I feel if I reveal that I converted to Christianity, the Muslims here may retaliate against me," the man, who is in his early thirties, said in an exclusive interview. "In many verses in the Koran, Muslims are told to kill, behead, cut fingers, or severely arrest and tie the kafirs," or nonbelievers.    

The man was born into a Muslim family in northern Iran. But as he grew older, he said he began to question the harsh application of Islamic doctrine in Iranian society.

"I asked myself why men were prohibited from shaking hands with women or why women were required to wear a scarf or veil," he said. "In addition, the Koran says to kill [nonbelievers]."

"I questioned whether these teachings were at odds with humanity and morality," he said, adding that he believes many people in Iran wrestle with the same issues.

After moving to the U.S. in 2009 as a doctoral student, the man befriended several Christians and began attending Bible study. Two years later, he converted to Christianity, then sought the help of the American Center for Law and Justice in a bid to obtain asylum. In July, a federal court granted his request, allowing him to remain in the country.

Had he returned to his homeland, the man would have almost certainly faced imprisonment and possibly death, said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the ACLJ.

"Asylum cases based on religious persecution are very common in the United States, and those converts from Islam who seek asylum here are greatly increasing as persecution of converts in the Muslim world is on the rise," Barrans said.

Iranian persecution of Christians came to the fore recently with the high-profile case of Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was released from an Iranian prison earlier this month after an intense international campaign and diplomatic pressure. Nadarkhani, who served three years in prison, had faced a death penalty sentence on charges of apostasy.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement following Nadarkhani’s release that hundreds of non-Muslims continue to suffer in prisons in Iran because of their faith.

"The United States will continue to stand with the people of Iran who struggle to have their fundamental human rights respected," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The man who was recently granted asylum told FoxNews.com that the regime in Iran closely tracks Christians.

"The government in Iran is very strange and complicated," he said. "If I want to go to a Christian church in Iran the secret police will recognize and arrest me since they will check my background and know that I was a Muslim.

"These police are present in all churches and also in Zoroastrian houses of worship to maintain control over religious minorities and locate Muslims who want to convert or have converted and now participate in those religions," he said, adding that "churches in Iran cannot conduct their services in Persian" – the official language of the country. 

Barrans said the man's fears are well-founded.

"It has become common knowledge that Iran heavily monitors church membership in Iran – at times even setting up cameras that monitor those who come and go from church buildings, with the intent of tracking the identities of converts from Islam to Christianity," she said.

"Iran then uses the information it gathers to persecute and intimidate converts to Christianity," she said. "These conditions allow even new converts to establish a well-founded fear of future persecution should they be forced to return to Iran."

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