Iran Releases Christian Converts Charged with Apostasy

Iran released two Christian men charged with apostasy, reported a Christian human rights group Thursday, even though the country's parliament is currently considering a bill that would make apostasy a crime punishable by death.

Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad, 53, and Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat, 40, who have been detained since May 15, were released from jail after a tribunal ruled that the charges were invalid, according to Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

This is the first time that Christians have been released after a trial, according to VOM's Glenn Penner.

"On other occasions, typically Iranian converts are released after a few weeks or a few months in jail," Penner said to Mission Network News. "You might say that's a positive sign."

Release International's CEO, Andy Dipper, said his human rights group was "delighted" by the news of the men's release, but added that "existence is about to become even tougher for other Iranians seeking freedom of faith."

In September, the Iranian parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill that would add apostasy to a list of crimes that would result in execution.

Currently, the bill is being sent back to the Legislative Commission to debate proposed amendments before it is brought back to the Parliament for another vote.

The European Union on Friday sent Iran a declaration that urged the state to drop its apostasy bill and release Christian converts in jail. Some human rights groups speculate that the EU declaration helped free the two Christian men.

Penner requests that Christians pray that the apostasy bill will fail to pass in the Iranian parliament.

The VOM spokesman noted that there is currently a growing openness among young Iranians to the Gospel because there "is a real deep disillusionment with Islam at this point."

Iran is ranked third in Open Doors' World Watch List for countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a "Country of Particular Concern," a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.