By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEHRAN (Worthy News) - Iranian authorities have temporarily released another jailed Christian convert after an order to free Christian prisoners for Christmas and the New Year, Worthy News learned Wednesday.
Milad Goudarzi was freed Monday, January 3, a move that has surprised Christians, said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Earlier Christians confirmed that nine other Christian converts, including a pastor, were also freed from prison on December 30 and New Year’s Day.
Goudarzi’s release came after the head of Iran’s judiciary reportedly instructed authorities across the country to grant Christian prisoners 10 days' leave.
The judiciary head, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, said Christians should be allowed to “mark the New Year 2022 and the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ,” MEC explained.
It was initially thought this would only apply to Iran’s ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities and not to former Muslims turning to faith in Christ, Worthy News established.
However, “Iranian Christians are surprised” Christian convert Goudarzi was also freed, MEC added.
Goudarzi was detained while in November 2020, Iranian security forces conducted raids on the homes of a dozen Christian converts in Fardis, near the industrial city of Karaj, Christians said.
In May 2021, Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi were initially sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges that supporters link to their Christian activities.
The three converts had reportedly been charged with “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam.”
In August, an appeal court reduced their sentences to three years’ imprisonment.
It was not immediately clear whether the other two Christian converts detained with Goudarzi in Karaj Central Prison had also been temporarily released to celebrate the New Year with family.
However, MEC, which provides advocacy to the targeted believers, said there have been “ a number of positive developments” for Christian converts in Iran.
It cited an Iranian Supreme Court ruling that engagement in house churches is not a crime as among crucial decisions by the judiciary of the strict Islamic nation.
Additionally, a prosecutor in the city of Dezful reportedly decided “that conversion to Christianity is not against Iranian law.”
And, “now a convert” from Islam is “being given a privilege normally accorded exclusively to ethnic Christians,” MEC said.
Yet, at least some Iranian Christians have doubts whether the release of Christian prisoners is motivated by recognizing freedom of religion or belief.
An Iranian church leader reportedly said that “the government’s seemingly friendly behavior in recent weeks is intended to deceive world public opinion.”
Iranian Christians said in comments shared with Worthy News that they hope believers will pray for the released convert and his family.
They also hope that “Iranian authorities will recognize all Christian converts as legitimate Christians in accordance with principles of freedom of religion or belief.”
Church representatives suggest there may be at least nearly one million Christians from a Muslim background inside Iran.
Iranian Christians said “they pray” that Iran’s leaders “will not just concede rights to Christian converts for their international image, but will uphold their rights” through international and international law.