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Pastor Facing 12 Years in Prison for Building a Church Gets 15-Day Release After Family Pays Iran $40K

Pastor Behnam Irani
Pastor Behnam Irani smiling in this undated photo. |

Pastor Behnam Irani, who's been held in an Iranian prison since 2011 because of his Christian ministry work, has received a temporary release and is now visiting with his wife and children at home for the first time in more than four years.

Irani, a 43-year-old former Muslim who is now an evangelical Christian leader in the Islamic Republic, was originally sentenced to serve six years in prison for reportedly forming an evangelical congregation in the city of Karaj.

But in September of last year, Irani was accused of 18 new charges, including "spreading corruption on Earth," which is punishable by execution.

Irani was subsequently sentenced to serve an additional six years in prison — 12 in total — after being convicted of committing crimes against Iranian national security, which is a charge often used to imprison Christian leaders who set up house churches in Iran.

Present Truth Ministries, a ministry dedicated to supporting the persecuted church in the Middle East and has continuously campaigned for Irani's release, reported last Friday that Irani was granted a 15-day release on July 4 after his family posted a $40,000 bond.

In order to pay the bond, Irani's mother pledged her own home as collateral. She will get the full rights to her property back if Irani returns to prison on the scheduled date of July 19.

Irani is now home visiting with his wife, Kristina, an Armenian Christian, and their two children.

"We are so grateful he was able to get back home to be with his family even for this short period of time," the Present Truth Ministries report stated. "It is the first time they are together at home in four and a half years."

In June of last year, Irani went missing for over three weeks and many feared that he was secretly executed. However, he was later returned to the prison and not allowed to say where he was taken or what was done to him.

"He was missing since June 7, 2014, without any information being given to his family regarding his whereabouts," Present Truth Ministries reported at the time. "The fear was that he was taken and executed without notice."

The news of Irani's release comes as Iran and six world powers came to an agreement Monday on a deal that many conservative opponents say could eventually lead to the Islamic Republic gaining access to nuclear weapons. Opponents have been adamant that such a deal should have required Iran's release of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and other wrongfully imprisoned Americans.

Although it is unlikely the Obama administration secured the Americans' release, it was reported last week that imprisoned Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi, who has been imprisoned since 2010 for his ministry work, had been granted an early release date.

Fathi, who was scheduled to be released in 2017, will be released on Dec. 10.

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