Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who had been re-arrested on Christmas Day after serving nearly three years in prison for renouncing Islam, was released today, according to individuals close to the pastor and his family.
Nadarkhani, 35, had been held since Christmas Day at Lakan Prison in Rasht, the facility where he was imprisoned from 2010 to 2012 in a case that made international headlines. Although he initially faced possible execution, he had been freed in November, with just 45 days left on a downgraded sentence issued after Fox News and other media outlets drew attention to his plight. But when he was arrested, an Iranian judge said he must finish his sentence.
When Nadarkhani, an active member in Iran's Evangelical community, was acquitted of apostasy in September and subsequently freed, it was seen as a major victory for the grassroots campaign that had embraced his cause. But the arrest on Christmas Day was a bitter blow for the married father of two young children and his supporters.
Last week, after FoxNews.com reported the latest arrest of Nadarkhani, U.S. Congressmen Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Keith Ellison, (D-Minn.), released a joint letter blasting the regime.
"We were heartbroken to learn that the government of Iran has thrown Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani back in jail," read the letter, released on Jan. 4. "Given its persecution of Pastor Youcef because of his Christian faith, it was particularly cruel to imprison him on Christmas Day."
Nadarkhani's trouble with the regime in Tehran began in 2006, when he applied for his church to be registered with the state. According to sources, he was arrested at that time and then soon released. In 2009, Nadarkhani went to local officials to complain about Islamic indoctrination in his school district, arguing that his children should not be forced to learn about Islam. He was subsequently arrested.
After his initial release, Nadarkhani wrote a public letter thanking all those who helped release him. In November, he traveled to London to speak at a national human rights conference thanking those who advocated on his behalf.
Nadarkhani's attorney, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has been imprisoned and remains in Iran's notoriously brutal Evin Prison, where his health is rapidly deteriorating and he is being denied proper dental care, according to his family. He has been jailed for advocating Nadarkhani's case and other human rights cases.