An Iranian pastor, who refused to renounce Christianity after being sentenced to death for apostasy, has been released from prison after an international campaign which won the support of the British government.

Youcef Nadarkhani was released from prison this weekend after a court in Rasht, in the north of the country, acquitted him.

The Guardian reported that Nadarkhani's lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah had argued in court that Iran was required to allow freedom of religion, as a signatory to several international treaties.

pastor iran

Around 500 people protest for the release of pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death in Iran, during an Easter march in Hamburg, Germany


British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for the Iranian regime to overturn the death sentence.

He said: "I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith.

"This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom.

"I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence."

The pastor was born to Muslim parents, but converted at the age of 19, joining the evangelical Church of Iran.

In Iran, those who convert to other religions can risk arrest and a death sentence.

The case had been passed to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and reports from Iran suggested the ayatollahs had been divided over the case, when Nadarkhani refused to recant his faith in exchange for freedom.

Amnesty International said Nadarkhani was originally arrested because he "protested against his child being given mandatory lessons on Islam in school" and said he was being held "solely because of his religious beliefs."

Amnesty said Nadarkhani told a judge: "I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant."