By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Iran released a pastor from prison Thursday after the Iranian Supreme Court ruled that involvement in house churches “should not be considered a crime against national security,” Worthy News learned.
Pastor Matthias, also known as Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, was freed from Anzali Prison, near Iran’s coastal city of Rasht, pending a review of his conviction, well-informed Christians said.
He was among nine Christian converts detained after abandoning Islam and joining house churches. “Iranian Christians thank the Lord” as the pastor’s release could raise hope for the eight others still behind bars, added advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Pastor Matthias and other house church believers were detained in Rasht in January and February 2019, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
In October 2019, they were each sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “acting against national security” due to their house church activities, several sources confirmed.
After an unsuccessful appeal, the Christians freed on bail were reportedly summoned to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in February 2020. They joined other believers who had not received conditional release, MEC said.
Pastor Matthias was later transferred to Anzali prison in August 2021 and released on Thursday, December 30, the group added.
His release came after the Supreme Court late last month “ordered a review of the sentences,” trial observers said.
The Court concluded that participating in house churches could not be seen as “a crime against national security” as had been alleged by authorities in the Islamic nation, Christians said.
“It is hoped that the other Christian converts from Rasht detained in Evin Prison will also be released in the coming days pending the review of their sentences by a Revolutionary Court,” MEC commented.
In remarks shared with Worthy News, Iranian Christians asked for prayers that the recent Supreme Court ruling will also lead to the release of the other Christian converts.
Those still in Evin Prison were named Khalil Deghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian, Mohammad Vafadar, Mohammad “Shahrooz” Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi.
Iranian Christians said they pray that authorities will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling that house church membership is not a crime.
In a statement shared by MEC Christians said they hope that that “all religious communities in Iran will be able to peacefully and freely practice their faith under national and international law.”
Unofficial house churches have been growing in Iran as Christianity is spreading in the country of 86-million a reported crackdown by the Islamic rulers.
Iranian church leaders suggest there may be at least nearly one million Christians from a Muslim background inside Iran.