This Christmas brings joy rather than terror to Christian pastor Farshid Fathi, who was released from an Iranian prison after spending nearly five years in jail for his Christian faith. Fathi originally was arrested on Dec. 26, 2010, with 60-plus other Christians from house churches in Tehran by agents of Iran's Intelligence Ministry. World Watch Monitor announced Tuesday that the Iranian pastor was freed on Monday, despite the fact his sentence recently was extended.
Fathi became a Christian at age 17, as a Christian convert activist from Islam.
Of the 22 Christian believers arrested by security forces in Tehran, 10 were released after intense questioning and after they signed agreements to refrain from Christian activities, reports Prisoner Alert. Eleven others also were later released. By the end of April 2011, only Farshid remained in prison, though his family had paid an enormous bail sum.
The 36-year-old father of two was held in the deadly Evin prison for more than 15 months without a trial, according to online website devoted to "Free Farshid." He was finally tried in January 2012, but details of his trial weren't released.
Fathi was serving a six-year prison sentence, recently extended to seven years, for "acting against national security through membership of a Christian organization, collection of funds, propaganda against the Islamic Regime by helping spread Christianity in the country," reports Prisoner Alert. He was last told he was due to be released in December 2017.
Fathi's wife and two children, Rossana and Bardia, were forced to leave Iran due to pressures from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. According to a Mohabat News story, they fled to Turkey in August 2011, where they applied for refugee status in the Canadian Embassy. They left Turkey for Canada in February 2013 and settled there.
While in prison, Fathi reported through a few letters accounts of severe mental torture, humiliation and pressure from interrogators, reports Christianity Today. He also reportedly spent nearly a year in solitary confinement.
Fathi wrote to his father: "Often I have been sorrowful because of certain things, but I have never been a slave of sadness. Often I have been insulted, humiliated and accused, but I have never doubted my identity in Christ. Some have deserted me, some have fled from me, of course in no way do I pass judgment on them. My Lord has never left me."
According to Elam Ministries, Farshid was a shining beacon for Christ in Evin, so much so the son of an Iranian ayatollah commented on Farshid's sweet nature in a YouTube video. The two shared a cell. The man remarked on how beloved Farshid is among the inmates. Elam described Farshid as "a man after God's own heart."