An Iranian Christian convert from Islam has been released mid-way through his ten-year prison sentence.
Naser Navard Goltapeh, 61 years old, has served nearly five years in Evin Prison for “acting against national security with the intention to overthrow the regime”.
Naser was told on 17 October that he had been pardoned, and he has now returned home.
His conviction was a result of his alleged links to churches and Christian groups outside Iran, as well as his role in running a “house church”.
Naser was arrested during a police raid on a church meeting in July 2017, and began his prison sentence in January the following year. His subsequent requests for a retrial were rejected four times by the Iranian authorities.
Evin Prison – in the Iranian capital, Tehran – is notorious for mistreatment, abuse and even torture of prisoners. Naser’s family have said that he was kept in solitary confinement for two months while undergoing gruelling interrogation.
It is not known whether the release of Naser is linked to the fire that killed at least eight people and injured dozens more at Evin Prison on 15 October.
None of the Christian prisoners at Evin are reported to have been harmed in the blaze.
Farsi (Persian)-speaking Christians, like Naser, are converts from Islam and therefore punishable as apostates according to Islamic law. Unlike the historic Armenian- and Assyrian-speaking Christian communities they are not permitted to hold church services or worship freely.
Farsi-speaking congregations are regularly raided and members charged with offences such as involvement in an “illegal group”, “acting against national security”, or spreading “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”.