An Iranian church leader has been granted five days of temporary furlough from prison after years of legal challenges.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is currently serving a six-year sentence, reduced from ten years, on charges of “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity”.
Dr Khataza Gondwe, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Africa and Middle East team leader, told Premier the temporary release could be part of a “PR exercise” amidst the nuclear negotiations.
“We're happy that he has [been granted this permit] but we would prefer that he was released completely, because of the charges against him, in promoting Zionist Christianity, whatever that may be, and acting against national security, simply for praising God and following your faith are excessive. The sentences undeserved,” she continued.
For, Dr Gondwe, his arrest is part of a “huge campaign against converts to Christianity”.
"A lot of people will know of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani from earlier this decade should I say. Because he had actually been almost sentenced to death, he was he was going to be executed for apostasy.
"So at that time, we campaigned for his release, and also for the overturning of the death sentence and that was successful.
"He was left alone for a little while and then it's almost like the regimes started to harass him again.
"So this was part of renewed harassment of him, and of the denomination he belongs to, which is the church of Iran.
“So a lot of church of Iran members have been arrested, as have many others from other church networks, and particularly those who are targeted, or those who have converted from Islam, we have to remember that Iran is actually a theocracy, so it's almost as if they treat conversion to another religion as a rejection of the very state itself."
Dr Gondwe went on to urge Christians to pray for him: "Let's pray big prayers, that not only him but the others also who were charged similarly, they received the same sentence will be released and not just them, but others who are either on trial or have been detained on excessive national security charges.
"It is ludicrous that people who are simply peaceably following their religion or belief are being charged as a threat to national security as a threat to the state.
"So pray that those charges will be ended and that everyone who has been imprisoned or charged in those terms will be set free from these charges or, or imprisonment."