Iraqi Christian Pastor Granted 'Private Amnesty,' Safe With Family

Iraqi pastor Abdi Ali Hamzah, also known as Pastor Jamal, has finally been released from prison after 21 months and will get the medical attention that he needs following what one ministry leader is calling an unprecedented move.

"It is by God's grace that this has been done," said Dr. Terry Law, founder and president of World Compassion Terry Law Ministries, who had campaigned for the pastor's release. "I don't think there is precedent for a former Muslim, converted to Christianity and proselytizing other Muslims, now convicted of a crime in an Iraqi court, to be released by 'private amnesty.' The odds against it were huge!"

Hamzah was arrested in July 2011 and initially sentenced to five years in Iraqi prison, with authorities trying to portray him as a spy for Iran. World Compassion has argued, however, that the charges were false, and that his capture had more to do with his evangelism – the pastor has helped Dr. Law distribute $100,000-worth of food to people in Iraq, risking his life as he went undercover to refugee villages.

The Iraqi pastor has been suffering from serious medical conditions, including a tumor, and World Compassion warned that he needed immediate help if he was to live.

"He has been in prison for 18 months now, and before that we sent him to Jordan to have some gammanite surgery done," Jason Law, vice president of Operations and the son of Terry Law, told CP in a previous interview. "He had a tumor in his brain, and they believe that it is coming back. From our understanding, he is now in a prison hospital but is not really receiving the treatment and care that he needs."

Dr. Law traveled alongside his associate, Joel Vesanen, to Erbil, Kurdistan, in February to appeal for Hamzah's release, carrying a letter from United States Senator James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma) petitioning for his cause. After a positive meeting with Minister of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir and other top level government officials, Law was given hope that the pastor could be released based on humanitarian grounds and given private amnesty.

"It was through the gracious and courageous act by President Masoud Barzani from the Kurdish Regional Government, that Pastor Jamal was granted private amnesty and released from prison," World Compassion reported. "It should also be recognized Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Minister of the Interior Karim Sinjari played critical roles in helping encourage his release."

Christians have been encouraged by Barzani's recent pledge to believers in the Kurdish region of Iraq that they can be assured of protection.

"We will protect the right of any Kurd to choose another faith," the prime minister has said, which according to World Compassion is "truly unprecedented" in the Middle East region.

The Christian ministry noted that the pastor has now left Iraq and is safe with his family at a refuge, where he is receiving the trauma counseling and medical attention that he needs.

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