pastor freed

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani greets his family as he leaves Iranian jail after three years. (Image source: Twitter via @JordanSekulow)

The Iranian pastor who faced execution for refusing to renounce his Christian faith was freed Saturday after three years in prison in his native country, a group campaigning for his release said.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 32, had been jailed in Iran since 2009 on apostasy charges following his conversion to Christianity. His charges were lowered Saturday to evangelizing Muslims, a three-year penalty, but he was credited for time already served and released, Fox News reported.

“Today our sources in Iran reported that Pastor Youcef was acquitted of apostasy and released from prison. After languishing in prison for almost three years, he has been reunited with his family,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice told Fox News in a statement.

“While we are working on confirming the exact details of his release, some sources report that the court alternatively convicted Pastor Youcef of evangelizing to Muslims, sentencing him to three years and granting him time served,” he said. “Pastor Youcef’s story is an example of how the world can join together to ensure that justice is served and freedom preserved.”

Sekulow subsequently tweeted a photo of Nadarkhani surrounded by others with the caption: “Pastor Youcef #Nadarkhani greets his family as he leaves prison after 1,062 days in #Iran jail.”

ACLJ legal director Tiffany Barrans said the group praised Nadarkhani’s release, but said Iran “felt obligated to save face among its people and continue its pattern of suppressing religious freedom with intimidation tactics.”

“International attention to this matter saved this man’s life, but we must not forget the human right of freedom of religion includes the right to freedom of expression,” Barrans told Fox News.