An Assemblies of God pastor has been freed from prison in Iran after five years.
Farshid Fathi was arrested on Boxing Day, 2010 during raids targeting Christian churches which saw 22 Christians arrested in Tehran and elsewhere. He spent more than 100 days in solitary confinement and was held for 14 months before his case came to trial.
He was given a six-year sentence in 2012 for 'action against national security', 'cooperating with foreign organisations' and 'evangelism'. He was also charged with having Bibles printed in Farsi, unlawfully distributing Bibles and possessing Christian literature.
During his time in prison he was held with violent criminals and suffered a broken foot during a raid on his cell by prison guards. Fathi's sentence was later extended after he was falsely accused of possessing alcohol. In March 2015 he was accused of insulting a prison imam after defying an order for all Christian books in the ward to be inspected.
According to Mohabat News, his release came as the result of a successful appeal under the recently-passed article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, which says that someone found guilty of multiple offences should only serve a sentence for the most serious of them. This exempted him from two years of his sentence.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed Fathi's release and expressed the hope he would soon be reunited with his family. "We remain deeply concerned at the treatment of Christians in Iran, who suffer harassment, mistreatment and imprisonment simply for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief by gathering to worship peacefully, particularly during the Christmas season," it said.
Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International, said: "We are delighted that Pastor Farshid has finally been set free and that the authorities have kept their word to release him. We want to thank our supporters around the world for praying for him.
"However, up to 100 other Christians remain behind bars in Iran – simply for being Christians. Iran continues to regard Christianity with hostility and Christian leaders who are active in their faith as enemies of the state. Please keep praying for a change of heart in Iran towards its Christian citizens."