Christian pastor Farshid Fathi has today been released from jail in Iran after begin sentenced for crimes against national security. The court had ruled that the pastor’s Christian activities were crimes against the Iranian state. He spent five years behind bars as a political prisoner.
Pastor Farshid Fathi was converted from Islam as a teenager. He went on to lead a network of house churches in Iran.
Christians who meet to worship or share their faith can find themselves accused of ‘undermining national security’. Up to 100 Christians remain in detention. There is particular hostility towards Muslim converts. Yet the underground house church in Iran continues to grow.
Farshid Fathi was arrested in December 2010 during a crackdown against the church. Authorities detained 22 Christians in Tehran and several other cities. Ten were released after signing agreements to refrain from Christian activities. Eleven others were later released.
But Pastor Farshid was kept in solitary confinement for almost a year, even though his family had paid a high figure for his bail. He was sentenced on March 5, 2012.
Farshid’s friends describe him as loving, cheerful, selfless and faithful – always eager to help and serve others. Born into a Muslim family in Iran, he became a Christian at the age of 17, following his brother’s conversion. In his 20s he began ministering full-time, and by 2010 he was leading a network of house churches.
At his trial, Farshid’s Christian activities were portrayed as political offences. He was charged with actions against national security through membership of a Christian organisation, collection of funds, being in contact with foreign organisations, and propaganda against the Islamic regime by helping to spread Christianity.
Farshid was also charged with having Bibles printed in Farsi, unlawfully distributing Bibles, and possessing Christian literature.
The authorities seized Farshid’s laptop, which gave them access to church financial information, such as spending on mission activities and travel abroad to conferences. This was taken as evidence of acting against national security.
Farshid, who is in his 30s, is married to Leila. They have two young children, daughter Rosanna and son Bardia. In April 2013, his family emigrated to Canada.
That year, Farshid wrote to Rosanna for her 10th birthday: ‘My beautiful Rosanna… I will never forget the first moment I saw you ten years ago. You were crying and your little hands were shaking like all infants. But even your cry was beautiful for me. Although it is my honour to be in prison for our Lord Jesus Christ, I am so sorry that I couldn’t be with you for your last three birthdays… I want you to know I love you so much and nothing could separate our hearts from each other.’
In April 2014, Farshid had his foot broken by a prison guard at Evin Prison in Tehran. Guards attacked more than 30 prisoners. When Farshid went to help one of the injured inmates, a guard stamped on Farshid’s bare foot with his heavy boot, breaking his foot and toe. He was denied medical treatment for three days.
He was later moved to Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj and kept in a cell with violent prisoners and drug addicts. A guard was constantly present in the cell to prevent the inmates from attacking each other.
His sentence was later extended after being 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.
‘We are delighted that Pastor Farshid has finally been set free and that the authorities have kept their word to release him,’ says Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International. ‘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.’
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.