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Defending the Freedom to Worship—Iranian Christian Pastor Released from Prison

WASHINGTON, DC (April 13, 2023) Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian-convert and leader of a 400-member house church, has been released from prison in Iran. Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested on charges of acting against national security and promoting “Zionist Christianity” in 2018. Prior to his arrest in 2018, he was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of apostasy and evangelism, although the sentence and charges were later dropped. 

“No person should be punished, much less imprisoned, for sharing their beliefs,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. ADF International has been advocating for Pastor Nadarkhani’s release since 2019. 

Zorzi continued: “For peacefully sharing his faith and leading a group of Christian Iranians as their pastor, Pastor Nadarkhani has repeatedly faced persecution, state-sanctioned violence, and years of prison. We are thankful that Pastor Nadarkhani was finally released from prison. The situation facing Christians and other religious minorities in Iran remains dire. The international community must continue to advocate for the right of Iranians to freely share their beliefs and practice their faith without fear of persecution. It’s imperative that the Iranian regime be held accountable for its grievous violations of the fundamental right to religious freedom.”     


Iran has had a long-held spot on the U.S. State Department’s Country of Particular Concern (CPC) watchlist. for its systematic and egregious religious freedom violations. The government of Iran often targets Christians who have converted from Islam, as seen in police raids of peaceful religious gatherings and the arrests of Christian religious leaders like Pastor Nadarkhani.  

While there are over 500,000 Christians and thousands of other Iranian citizens who identify as religious minorities, the Iranian constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and holds Islam as the official state religion. The constitution holds that all laws, regulations and citizen rights must be “in conformity with Islamic criteria.” The penal code specifies the death penalty for proselytization, blasphemy, and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims away from Islam. 

In addition to advocating for the release of Pastor Nadarkhani, ADF International also supported an Iranian man seeking asylum in Sweden after facing persecution for his beliefs. After Sweden denied his request, ADF International provided legal arguments on his behalf with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR found that the denial of his asylum without an up-to-date assessment would be a violation of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, recognizing that people of faith should be able to practice their faith openly without fearing for their lives.  

Images for free use in print or online in relation to this story only

Photo of Pastor Nadarkhani courtesy of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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