The first good news, from Foxnews (H/T Deacon’s Bench):
Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was originally sentenced to death in his native country for his Christian faith, was acquitted of apostasy charges and released from custody.
Nadarkhani, 32, was imprisoned for three years and waiting execution for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. His charges were lowered to evangelizing to Muslims, which carried a three-year sentence. He was released with time served, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based watchdog group that had been campaigning for the pastor’s release.
“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 ACLJ said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
“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. Pastor Youcef’s story is an example of how the world can join together to ensure that justice is served and freedom preserved.”
Nadarkhani was originally called to Saturday’s hearing to answer to “charges brought against him,” leading to speculation that the new charges from the Iranian Supreme Court could be for a security-based crime, a charge often handed down to cover-up prisoners being held and sentenced on faith-based charges.
“While we praise the release of Pastor Youcef, we must recognize that Iran felt obligated to save face among its people and continue its pattern of suppressing religious freedom with intimidation tactics,” Tiffany Barrans, a legal director for ACLJ said to FoxNews.com.
“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.”
Nadarkhani’s attorney, who also has been jailed, maintained that the married father of two faced execution because he refused to renounce his religion. An Iranian diplomat told a United Nations panel earlier this year that Nadarkhani would not be executed.
According to Sharia law, an apostate has three days to recant. The pastor refused to do so and sources close to the matter say executions in Iran can happen at any time, often without notice. The court is reportedly seeking the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s spiritual leader and highest authority, according to AFP.
The ACLJ worked with the State Department to try to win Nadarkhani’s freedom, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this year condemning his imprisonment and calling for his immediate release. Nearly 3 million people have voiced support for Nadarkhani on Twitter through the “Tweet for Youcef” campaign.
And the second (from New York Times):
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Christian girl accused of burning a religious textbook was released from jail on Saturday after a judge in Pakistan had granted her bail, a significant step in a controversy that has renewed scrutiny of the country’s blasphemy laws.
After a lengthy hearing with heated arguments on Friday, Justice Muhammad Azam Khan ordered that the girl, Rimsha Masih, be released on bail of one million rupees, or $10,500, sparing her what could have been months in a notorious high-security facility waiting for her case to come to trial.
On Saturday afternoon, the girl was spirited from a prison in Rawalpindi, a city near the Pakistani capital, according to local officials. Her lawyer told reporters he was working to have the case dismissed.
Given the widespread focus on the case and the anger it has generated, her departure took place under tight security. Ms. Masih was driven from the prison in an armored vehicle and taken to a waiting helicopter while covered with a sheet to protect her identity, according to an Associated Press reporter who was on the scene.
Ms. Masih, who comes from a family of sweepers — work shunned by Muslims but common among poor Christians — has been detained in a high-security prison since mid-August, when Muslim neighbors in her Islamabad suburb accused her of burning a textbook used to teach the Koran to small children.
In his detailed ruling published later Friday, Justice Khan upheld the findings of a medical report that put Ms. Masih at 14 years old and found that her mental capacities were not commensurate with her age. The prosecution had challenged the report, claiming she was 16 and not developmentally disabled.
Campaigners called on the police to drop the charges entirely, because Ms. Masih is a minor. “The police should come forward and say there is no case, and that there will be no trial,” said Asma Jahangir, the country’s most prominent human rights lawyer.
The case has come to represent what many see as the abuses carried out in the name of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws, which critics say are often used to intimidate members of minority groups. Ms. Masih was jailed after hundreds of Muslims protested outside her local police station at the instigation of a cleric, Muhammad Khalid Chishti, who said she should face the full force of the law — including, possibly, the death penalty.
This week, the police detained Mr. Chishti on suspicion that he planted pages from the Koran on Ms. Masih. Calls for the case to be dropped have grown.
Outside the courtroom on Friday, a group of children with Down syndrome held a banner that read, “We want to meet Down syndrome girl Rimsha.” Inside, lawyers made long and often fiery arguments that, at one point, prompted the judge to ask that decorum be respected.
Ms. Masih’s lawyers said the blasphemy charge was a ruse on the part of a local “land mafia,” with the goal of evicting up to 400 Christian families from her neighborhood.
Munir Jafferi, a police officer, told the court that Mr. Chishti had added two pages of the Koran to a bundle of already burned pages from the religious textbook in an effort to bolster the evidence against Ms. Masih.
Days earlier, Mr. Jafferi said, some Muslims in the locality had objected to Christians’ playing music during religious services. During Friday Prayer, Mr. Chishti “asked the landlord to evict the Christians from the neighborhood,” he said.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the ruling in a statement on Friday. “The fact is that this child should not have been behind bars at all,” it said.
An international advocacy organization, Avaaz, said it had gathered more than a million signatures from around the world in support of Ms. Masih.
After the hearing Friday, Rao Abdur Raheem, the prosecution lawyer, said he accepted the judge’s order as a conscientious Pakistani citizen.
“The accused and the co-accused are both Pakistanis,” he said. “Rimsha had an allegation against her. She is welcome to go back to her home.”