An Iranian Christian pastor imprisoned for his faith since December 2013 has been released.
Pastor Rasoul Abdollahi was first arrested on 26 December 2010, as part of a widespread crackdown on Christian activity. He was detained and interrogated for more than two months before being released on bail.
He was then tried in court and imprisoned on 2 December 2013. But he has now been pardoned and released this week, and will be able to return to his wife and children.
Abdollahi is a leader in Iran's house church movement, and was arrested on the same day as a number of other Christians, most of whom have since been released. However, Pastor Farshid Fathi, who was also arrested that day, remains in prison and has had his prison term extended.
A source, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, told Christian Today that Iran's judiciary seems to be encouraging Christians who are arrested to leave the country before standing trial.
"Our feeling is that at the moment they are pressuring Christians to leave rather than bothering with the hassle of imprisoning them for long periods," the source said.
"They are getting people to leave in fear rather than the expense and international outcry of putting people in prison."
The source said there was one case where the judge explicitly told a defendant that he was going to give him the chance to leave the country.
Estimates from December 2014 suggest that there are currently 92 Christians detained in Iranian prisons, only 13 of whom are serving court-issued sentences.
Abdollahi was convicted under Iran's national security laws, as his Christian ministry was construed as political and deemed a threat to national security. The source said his work was "not political at all" and that this is the method often used for arresting and imprisoning Christians.
The source could not confirm whether or not Pastor Abdollahi plans to try to leave the country after his release.