Jailed Iranian Pastor Temporarily Freed, In 'Good Spirits'

Iranian authorities temporarily freed a pastor after keeping him in prison for 54 days.

Pastor Wilson Issavi of Assyrian Evangelical Church in Kermanshah, a remote city in Western Iran, was freed on bail Sunday evening, reported the Farsi Christian News Network. The pastor, who is described by FCNN as being in "good spirits," thanked the Lord for his freedom.

Issavi will remain free while he awaits further investigation and review of his charges by the court. He is accused by the Iranian government of "converting Muslims."

The Assyrian pastor was unexpectedly arrested by security forces on Feb. 2, while visiting a friend's house in the central city of Isfahan. For weeks, his family had no information about him. But after the media began covering his arrest and following outcry from international human rights groups, Iranian authorities contacted Issavi's wife and allowed her to visit her husband in prison.

His wife, during the prison visit, said she noticed evidence that he was tortured. She saw bruises and marks from beatings on his body. A prison officer told the pastor's wife before she left that her husband would receive the death penalty for evangelizing Muslims.

But since his release, Issavi has not given any detailed report on what he experienced during the 54 days in prison. He has told his family that although prison was a naturally difficult experience, a fisherman must expect his clothes to get wet and this is something inevitable, according to FCNN.

Issavi was arrested a month after the government shut down his Pentecostal church in January. He has not been allowed to enter the church since his release.

The Assyrian Evangelical Church in Kermanshah was among three churches that were shut down in the past year by security forces on charges of attempting to convert Muslims. None of the three churches have been given permission to reopen yet.

Christian persecution watchdog groups say that Issavi's arrest appears to be part of an anti-Christian campaign that started after June's contested election that sparked nationwide political protests. Authorities have been cracking down on Christian leaders, especially those living in Isfahan.

The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 1999 for its persecution of non-Shia Muslims.