By Diana Chandler, Baptist Press
KARAJ, Iran (BP) — Pastor Farshid Fathi, imprisoned in Iran for his faith since 2010, has been granted a Dec. 10 release from the notoriously brutal Rajai Shahr prison, two years earlier than expected, Elam Ministries has announced.
Ann Buwalda, a board member of the Iranian-led ministry that engages in evangelism and discipleship in the Mideast nation, called the early release “positive news which has greatly encouraged Farshid and his family. We join them in praising God for this development and for those who have made it possible.”
The reason for the early release was not given, but Fathi was informed July 4 of his new release date, and the news was revealed to the public two days later, Elam Ministries reported.
Fathi had been imprisoned since his arrest the day after Christmas 2010 at his home in Tehran and was originally taken to Evin prison. In a February 2012 trial, he was convicted of “action against the national security,” accused of “cooperating with foreign organizations and evangelism,” Elam Ministries said.
His original sentence of six years was extended by a year in December 2014 on false charges. He had been injured in an attack by Evin prison guards on April 17, 2014, and was transferred to the Rajai Shahr prison in August 2014 for unknown reasons.
In the attack on April 2014, the Thursday before Easter, an officer broke Fathi’s foot and toe and denied him medical treatment until Easter Sunday. With his foot in a cast, Fathi sent a message of forgiveness to Christians praying for his safety.
“Of course, we forgive them for all they have done to us because we are the followers of the One who says, ‘Father, please forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,'” Fathi wrote, according to a letter posted on Elam Ministries’ website. “So my dear friends, please in these days pray for me that I may know Him and be found in Him and the power of resurrection.”
Buwalda requested continued prayer for Fathi as he nears his release. His wife and two daughters have lived in Canada since 2013.
Fathi is among an estimated 90 Christians imprisoned in Iran as punishment for their faith, according to Elam Ministries, including pastor Saeed Abedini, serving an eight-year sentence in Rajai Shahr prison.
Abedini was “viciously” beaten, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reported June 10, prompting renewed calls for his release as a condition of any nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran.
A U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, Abedini has suffered beatings and at times been denied medical treatment since his September 2012 imprisonment for planting house churches years earlier. He had been held under house arrest in Iran since July 2012.
His wife Naghmeh has led a campaign for his release, aided by the ACLJ and other advocates. President Obama met with Naghmeh and the two Abedini children during a visit to Boise, Idaho, in January and promised to work for Abedini’s release.