Pastor Robert Asserian of the Central Assemblies of God Church has reportedly been freed from prison in Iran, but was told to remain silent about what he has gone through.
Mohabat News reported that the pastor of Iran's largest Persian speaking Pentecostal church, who was arrested on May 21 while leading a worship service in Tehran, was released on bail on July 2. The news agency of Iranian Christians and activists said that while there is "no clear information" on the release, he and his family have been told to keep silent about what happened.
"The condition 'silence for freedom,' shows that Iranian authorities want to portray actions such as releasing prisoners as human rights improvement in Iran," the report said. "This is done to rebuild the distorted image of the regime in the international community and escape pressure from the media for violating Human Rights."
The Vatican Radio confirmed the news in a short press release, reminding readers that Asserian's house was searched and his computer and his books were confiscated when he was arrested in May. Iran, an Islamic republic, allows limited and restricted opportunities for Christian communities to gather, but it has tried to stop them from using the Farsi language in their religious gatherings.
"There are lots of underground churches in Iran but the Assemblies of God, which the Church in Tehran is, is permitted to operate but with many restrictions. It has never been easy, but now they are considering closure," Kiri Kankhwende, press officer for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, shared with The Christian Post in May.
Central Assemblies of God Church and other Christian churches have been seen as a growing threat to Iran's authorities, who have imprisoned a number of Christian pastors in the past. In a well-known case, they are currently holding U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini and have sentenced him to eight years in Evin Prison, supposedly for endangering national security.
Questions remain how much, and if, newly elected President Hassan Rouhani will be able to help Christians and other minorities in Iran.
"Only presidential candidate Rohani has promised to work for minorities, including Christians," Firouz Khandjani, a key official of the Church of Iran, told BosNewsLife. However, Khandjani noted that the president will always need the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tiffany N. Barrans, the American Center for Law and Justice's International legal director, previously told CP that while hopes remain that Rouhani can bring in the reform and greater freedom he promised to religious minorities, "in reality, the man who controls the country and has set the harsh policy towards Christians remains unchanged – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei remains at the helm and he has set course for utter destruction of the Christian faith in Iran."