Three pastors wrongfully imprisoned in Iran have been released after four months thanks to the work of domestic and foreign advocacy groups, who slammed their incarceration as "a whole other level of tyranny".
According to Middle East Concern, Eldar Gurbanov (48), Yusif Farhadov (51) and Bahram Nasibov (37) from Baku in Azerbaijan had been invited to attend a gathering to bless a newly wedded couple in Tehran, and wanted to spend three days touring the country Iran.
Security agents raided the wedding party and initially arrested ten people, most of whom were quickly released. However, the three pastors were taken to Evin Prison for interrogation.
According to MEC, the men, all of whom are married with children, were kept in solitary confinement for two months and interrogated, and their whereabouts were not made known. In September, the Christians were transferred out of solitary confinement to shared cells in Ward 350 in Evin Prison and faced charges of engaging in missionary activity and propaganda against the regime. The men were released on bail two weeks ago.
Iran remains one of the most repressive countries in the world in regards to freedom of religion, and is number 9 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
Speaking to One News Now, Sandra Elliot of International Christian Concern called the baseless incarceration of the pastors "a whole other level of tyranny."
"The identity of a nation as an Islamic republic is more important [to them] than anything else, including the sovereignty of citizens from other countries," she says. "They never really back off. It's more about when we hear it happen. I think a lot more is going on than what we hear about, honestly."
In 2012, Iranian authorities arrested and imprisoned Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, on charges of setting up home churches in the Islamic theocracy. The pastor was freed in January in a prisoner swap with Iran and has since spoken out about the hardships he faced while imprisoned.
During an interview with former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, Abedini recounted the pain he underwent while in prison, as he was interrogated, then physically and psychologically tortured after he refused to sign documents implicating him in crimes that he said he did not commit.
He said he saw terrible things happen to other prisoners, such as Sunni Muslims, being publicly executed.
However, the pastor revealed that he spent much of his confinement in retrospection: "Mostly I was praying," he recalled. "The best thing I could do over there was [pray]."