Help Save Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

We want to thank those of you who responded to our earlier, brief email regarding the death sentence received by Pastor Yousef. We wanted to take the time to send out a more extensive email detailing the history of Pastor Yousef’s case, along with our Press Release and materials for use in your churches. While this atrocious miscarriage of justice has drawn condemnation from Speaker John Boehner, the State Department, the White House and dozens of members of Congress, Pastor Yousef remains in prison with a death sentence hanging over his head. That is why we are sending you materials to help you spread the word. We want you to talk about this with your friends and pray for Pastor Yousef in your churches. The Iranian government may be trying to wait for the furor in the western media to die down so that they can execute Pastor Yousef quietly. We must continue crying out until he is released.

The History: Service to God

Pastor Yousef grew up in a Muslim household but like many in Iran, the bloody rule of the Ayatollahs pushed him away from religion. He served no God and lived a life of darkness until the light of Christ reached him at 19 years old. Having found satisfaction in the Gospel, Yousef immediately began to share it with those around him, and he became the pastor of a church in his hometown in northern Iran. God blessed him with a wife and children and despite the danger of a government crackdown, Pastor Yousef continued to share the Gospel and his church grew to around four hundred members.

The Crime: Apostasy

The local authorities hated and feared the growing Christian community in their midst. They were just waiting for an opportunity to strike. Opportunity came in the form of a new law, requiring the religious indoctrination of all Iranian children into Islam the specific version of Islam favored by the elite Islamic clergy that rules the country. Pastor Yousef protested the indoctrination of his children and was promptly arrested in his hometown of Rasht on October 13, 2009. However, soon after his arrest, the charges were changed from unlawful protesting to apostasy. Apostasy, defined as leaving Islam, cannot be found in Iran’s penal code and the investigation necessary to prove apostasy openly violates Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which forbids the investigation or punishment of anyone solely on the basis of their religious belief. The local authorities did not let these technicalities stop them and soon the sentence came down.

The Sentence: Death

After the initial death sentence Yousef was imprisoned awaiting his appeal at the Supreme Court. Iranian authorities used every means at their disposal to try to force Pastor Yousef to deny his faith. In addition to the ever-present threat of death, they held him incommunicado, tortured him, imprisoned his wife and threatened his children. Even his lawyer, Mohammad Dadkah, a valiant Muslim advocate for human rights, was suspended from practicing law and sentenced to 9 years in prison for supporting the cause of freedom in Iran. After years in prison, the Iranian Supreme Court remanded his case back to the local court that initially sentenced Pastor Yousef to death. Despite multiple violations of international law and Iran’s own Constitution, the Iranian court held a series of hearings calling on him to recant his Christian convictions. When he refused they once again sentenced Pastor Yousef to death on September 25, 2011.

The Response: Outrage

By the time the second death sentence was handed down the case had drawn considerable international attention. First prominent pastors, journalists, and musicians tweeted about #Nadarkhani. Then news agencies such as the Washington Times and Fox News pushed the issue into the mainstream. A wave of private and public diplomatic efforts reached to Tehran telling them that this lone Christian pastor was not alone, and that executing him would draw the ire of the entire free world. Faced with a decision above their pay-grade, the courts passed the buck all the way to the top. Now only the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei can spare Yousef’s life.

Our Request: Keep Up the Pressure.

We want to emphasize, the government of Iran wants Pastor Yousef dead. The massive grassroots response and high-level advocacy carried out to date has only given Yousef a stay of execution. If our attention flags, that stay could prove only too temporary.

Click Here to download the poster which you can put up at your churches or other public bulletin boards.
Click Here to download a background pamphlet explaining the history of the case.
Feel free to print out our Press Release on Pastor Yousef, which is below.

Most of all, please continue praying for Pastor Yousef and for the all of the Christian suffering in Iran.


Press Release

Jubilee Campaign Calls For the Immediate Release of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

The Government of Iran recently condemned Christian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani to death for ‘leaving Islam’, in blatant violation of their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Jubilee Campaign calls on the United States and the international community to forcefully address this public violation of Iran’s obligations under international covenant and press for the immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.

Today Jubilee Campaign, an advocate for international religious freedom, adds their voice to the chorus of cries from the human rights community calling for the release of Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. While the government of Iran habitually harasses and persecutes Christians and other religious minorities, last month they shocked the world by publicly condemning a man to death for apostasy, the crime of leaving Islam. Though reports of torture and extrajudicial killings of religious minorities abound, Iran has not formally executed anyone for apostasy since Pastor Hossein Soosmand in 1990.

Jubilee Campaign calls attention to the fact that the charge of apostasy, which cannot be found anywhere in Iran’s penal code, attacks the human right to leave one’s religion for another religion or no religion at all. This right is enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Iran ratified without reservation. Jubilee Campaign calls on the United States to address this blatant and public violation of Iran’s international obligations. In addition to the manner in which the charges violate Iran’s international obligations, the formal investigation or punishment of a person on the basis of their religious beliefs violates Article 23 of Iran’s own Constitution.

Leaving aside the illegal charges and the unconstitutional investigation, Pastor Yousef claims that he does not meet the definition of genuine apostasy because he was never a Muslim. Until he became a Christian at 19 years old he did not believe in any God at all. Pastor Yousef’s story is not uncommon in Iran. The association of Islam with the Ayatollah’s reign of blood and terror has created a great deal of disillusionment with religion, particularly among younger generations of Iranians. Unfortunately for this growing segment of Iranian society, the death sentence against Pastor Youcef redefines apostasy as leaving the religion of one’s ancestors, a precedent with grave implications for any Iranian with a Muslim background.

“Clearly,” says Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign, “the international community must hold the Iranian government accountable and prevent this unjust execution. Media and governments around the world must speak out and break the silence that condemns this innocent men to death.”

Moving Forward with Jubilee Campaign’s Peace and Reconciliation Project

Changing Capacity to Better Serve the People of Uganda

Last month we announced the Peace and Reconciliation Project and gave you some background on our partners at Peace & Reconciliation Ministries in Africa. Now we want to cast our vision for the future of this great work. For the past five years PRMA focused on saturating the area around their Peace Center in Lira, Uganda, training 250 local traditional leaders, 400 pastors, 600 political and civic leaders and 240 military officers in biblical conflict resolution.

While we will continue to train new leaders as they are elected or appointed, the ministry focus in Lira needs to shift. Land disputes are the most prevalent cause of serious conflict in northern Uganda and mediators trained in Biblical conflict resolution often require specialized technical assistance to create property lines and register discrete properties with the government.

To meet this need, PRMA must develop two new capacities. First we need modern GPS surveying equipment and training for their people to use it. Based on these surveys PRMA can print out beautifully detailed maps so that people can actually see their property. Dickson Ogwang, the founder of PRMA, emphasized the important and immediate effect such surveys would have.

The surveys and the maps they create would better equip local leaders to create effective solutions. The beauty of the reconciliation process is that those involved do need to wait for the government to approve their solution, they can implement it on their own based on the personal integrity of those involved. In addition to resolving current disputes, a better understanding of what someone does and does not own will help prevent future disputes from arising.

This is not to say that formal government recognition is not important. PRMA’s other capacity shift involves developing trained legal staff to assist in the acquisition of a formal title. As we discussed in the last email Uganda’s formal real estate system was thrown into chaos by years of dictatorship and war, creating an enormous backlog for properties to be registered and titled.

Upon returning from a trip to Uganda, Sam Casey described thousands of applications for land titles sitting on tables in local courthouses, waiting for adjudication in horrendously understaffed and unequipped courts. Fortunately, the Ugandan Constitution recognizes agreements created by mediation, such as the reconciliation practices. When conflict arises PRMA’s primary responsibility will still involve offering expert reconciliation services at the Peace Center to create workable agreements, which will be honored by both sides. However, by adding the capacity of trained legal staff to facilitate the processing of these agreements, PRMA can not only aid the people of Uganda in gaining formal title to their land, it can also help remove backlog from the courts.

In order to accomplish this we need your help. In addition to money for the GPS and survey training, PRMA needs to send two of its staff to the Law Development Center at Uganda Christian University. This nine month program will cost approximately $2000 per staff member.  We also need $21,000 to finish and fully furnish our offices in Lira. God has provided easy access to electricity with a transformer now standing at the compound of the Peace Center and the premise fully wired. Once the office is finished this surveying/titling ministry will have computers and internet access. In short, everything we need to run a modern, efficient office.

Jubilee Campaign is very excited about this new project. Our friends at PRMA work to create peace in practical real-world ways. Once again, thank you for all your help and support. Look forward to future updates where we will describe PRMA’s efforts in Gulu, Uganda working on saturating that area with peace and reconciliation.

Introducing Jubilee Campaign’s Peace and Reconciliation Project

Working to bring Justice and Hope to the war torn region of northern Uganda

Jubilee Campaign is pleased to announce the Peace & Reconciliation Project. Through this project we will come alongside the valiant Christians at Peace & Reconciliation Ministries in Africa. For the past fifteen years PRMA worked in Lira, Uganda combating the depredations left by years of totalitarian rule followed by civil war.

In order to understand the work of PRMA a little background on Uganda is in order. During the 1970s the brutal dictator Idi Amin converted the country to a socialist system, declaring that all land was “public land.” This action threw the formal real estate system of Uganda into chaos. Property, whether private, commercial or tribal became a matter of verbal agreements and physical possession.

With the fall of Idi Amin came civil war of the most vicious possible kind. In particular, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), infamous for its use of child soldiers, ravaged the north. Violence became a way of life for an entire generation of northern Ugandans, and millions were forced to flee their homes. The war raged for a quarter of a century.

As the government of Uganda gradually forced the LRA back, the people of northern Uganda returned to their homes. However, after twenty-five years of war, claims of ownership could not be verified and property lines only existed in memory. Children who grew up in camps for refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) might never even have seen their family’s land.

Land disputes turned bloody as the overloaded courts could not effectively process claims. Without formal titles to the land they farmed, families could be driven off their land by corrupt officials or roaming bandits. In one of the poorest regions in the world, land security directly translated into food security. Driven by desperate need and raised in environment saturated with violence, people did not know any other way to respond.

So Dickson Ogwang founded PRMA to teach them Christ’s way. Using curriculum based on Biblical principles, PRMA reached out to religious and tribal leaders, teaching them how to resolve disputes and create security using a system of communal land ownership very similar to that used by the tribes of Israel. In 2005 PRMA partnered with our very own Sam Casey, the managing director and general counsel of our Law of Life Project.

As you can see in the picture, Sam and Dickson are strong friends and a powerful team in ministry. Together, they raised over $125,000 and trained over 250 tribal leaders around Lira to resolve disputes and create workable solutions.

This ministry of peace and reconciliation images the Gospel in a wonderful way. With the support of our Board, we believe the project to be fully consistent with the principles of Jubilee Campaign. Stay posted for future updates where we will discuss the future of our Peace and Reconciliation Project and what you can do to help.

International Protest to Save North Korean Refugees

North Korea possesses one of the worst human rights records in the world. Their crimes include practically every core issue that Jubilee Campaign was formed to oppose. Prisoners of conscience, vicious detention, torture, religious persecution, forced abortion, human trafficking, North Korea does it all. That is why Jubilee Campaign is a charter member of the North Korean Freedom Coalition and why we were glad to participate in the International Protest to Save North Korean Refugees.

Out of the Frying Pan: Fleeing North Korea

North Koreans live on the whim of their totalitarian government. The government brutally oppresses independent thought or religious belief of any kind. Government mismanagement and an obsession with nuclear weapons development has led to shortages and widespread famines. When the socialist system runs low on food, government offices simply stop giving rations to “less productive” members of society, such the elderly or women. Whether for ideology or food, every year thousands of North Koreans reach the point where they can either flee or die. Those who make it out of the country alive are the North Korean Refugees.

Into the Fire: China’s Repatriation Policy

If these desperate refugees make it across the border they face grave danger from the Chinese government. Any North Korean refugee that falls into the hands of the Chinese government will be repatriated to North Korea where they will face public execution or a lingering death in concentration camps. This government policy means that North Korean women cannot go to the police making them extremely vulnerable to human traffickers. Oftentimes the very men who the refugees pay to smuggle them into China turn out to be vicious kidnappers. The women are taken deep into China and sold as sex slaves. If a woman fights too hard, the traffickers can simply turn her over to the police. While there are success stories of remarkable women who escaped their masters and fled China, the vast majority of North Korean refugees suffer under this brutal policy.

The Protest

For some years now, the North Korean Freedom Coalition, led by Suzanne Scholte has held annual protests for North Korean Refugees outside of the Chinese Embassy. This year we held a special international protest. At noon on September 22nd, Chinese embassies and consulates in dozens of cities around the world received petitions protesting their treatment of the North Korean Refugees. In many cities including Washington D.C. that petition was accompanied by a gathering in protest of China’s brutal policy.

Speaking Out

The DC event began with speeches from NGO representatives such as Peter Kang and our very own Gregory Treat, whose speech is below. Then the defectors and refugees got up and told their stories. The firsthand witness lent weight to what we all were saying. Then we marched in front of the embassy chanting our pleas for justice. Our request is simple: China should stop sending North Koreans to their deaths. They should allow refugees to pass through their nation to South Korea or other nations that are eager grant them shelter. We concluded with a prayer for the nations of China and North Korea.

Our Thanks on an International Effort

Our protest was joined by protests all around the world. 26 cities in 13 countries joined in the noble effort. Jubilee Campaign received specific thanks and recognition from Suzanne for mobilizing coordinators in cities and countries that she never expected. So we want to extend that thanks to you all. You stood up and helped us push for justice and freedom against one of the worst regimes in the known world. One day the corrupt communist government of North Korea will fall. With your support Jubilee Campaign can continue to work until that day, and for that you have our sincerest thanks.

Prepared Remarks

Thank you Suzanne for introducing me. As Jubilee Campaign’s representative I am honored to be here, to add my voice to the chorus of protests both here and in dozens of cities around the world. I am honored but I am also compelled to join this protest.

We are all compelled because the fate of the North Korean refugees demands protest. As other speakers will discuss, those who flee from North Korea into China suffer a multitude of torments. They suffer without any hope of legal redress because China’s secret agreement with North Korea turns justice on its head. Instead of punishing human traffickers and criminals, the Korean victims suffer brutal imprisonment until they are repatriated to face torture and death. China’s actions clearly violate the pledge they made to protect refugees by signing the UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees and its Optional Protocol.

Let me emphasize however, that we are not merely protesting China and its vicious treatment of refugees. We are protesting the brutal regime that forced countless thousands of North Koreans to flee in the first place. We are here protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy because they aid and abet North Korea’s human rights abuses. We are here because by supporting North Korea, China has become an accomplice to crimes against humanity!

Report on North Korea read like a scene from humanity’s worst nightmare. North Korea replaces freedom of the press with a constant barrage of state propaganda. A universal environment of fear where families and friends report on each other’s ideological purity replaces freedom of speech. Freedom of movement, the oldest definition of liberty, does not exist. Religious belief of any kind or creed is itself a crime against the state. Government mismanagement and the Kim family’s obsession with nuclear weapons cause shortages and famines.

North Korea denies its people rights fundamental to civilization. In some ways, the people of North Korea do not posses legal rights, for their very lives can be taken on the whim of a government official or the rumor of a denouncing witness. In many cases torture and execution take place without any kind of trial or legal proceeding to say nothing of genuine due process.

Those not summarily executed are sentenced to concentration camps to be tortured, experimented on, or simply worked to death. The men and women in these camps become crippled in body and mind. They are barely recognizable as human beings and the guards treat them like beasts. The official policy of North Korea prohibits sexual contact with political prisoners because that would acknowledge their humanity and that is something that the government of North Korea is not prepared to do. Innocent children born in these camps or sentenced by North Korea’s guilt by association laws experience the same treatment with virtually no chance of release. Finally, as we listen to the firsthand testimony we must remember that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The North Korean government has committed bloodshed on a genocidal scale and the victims number in the millions.

For too long the international community has ignored the crimes inflicted on the people of North Korea. Earlier this month a coalition gathered in Tokyo to call for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate North Korea’s crimes. While North Korea remains one of the most closed and secretive countries in the world, the testimony of thousands of North Korean refugees and defectors has established the truth. The policies of the government of North Korea are nothing less than crimes against humanity, and those who planned, ordered and carried out those policies are barbarians.

So I ask the government of China, why do you partner with barbarians? Why do you shield and enable this rogue state? Among the many crimes committed by the North Korean government, they have a vicious policy of racial superiority, which particularly targets those of ethnic Chinese descent. Why do you defend and enable an ideology that views the Chinese people as subhuman?

I want to make the choice clear for the Chinese government. There are two paths in front the People’s Republic of China. On the one hand there is the path of progress, of trade, of presence and prominence in the international community. There are the statements that China has made concerning human rights. The covenants China has joined of its own free will. This path leads to peace, prosperity, and the respect of the world community as China lives up to its potential as a leader in world affairs.

On the other hand is a path of deceit, of secret agreements in violation of international treaties. In this path China wastes its influence protecting a rogue state, which despises the Chinese people. This path marginalizes China as it continues to pursue an outdated Cold War era foreign policy, in a time when globalization makes those tactics obsolete. This path leads to suspicion, division, and protests, which shame China in front of the world.

China can choose to respect its covenants and embrace its position in the international community or it can choose to cower in the shadows with a rogue state that receives no respect because it deserves none. We are here, on this day, in this city and around the world, to send a message to the government of China. Two paths are in front of you, and the time to choose is now.

Thank you.

Room for Improvement At the State Department

Official Portrayal of Nigerian Violence Still Leaves Much To Be Desired

Over the past decade thousands of Nigerian’s have lost their lives to violent Muslim extremists. While endemic violence victimizes Christians throughout the north, much of the violence seems to be linked to events in Plateau State, the northern-most Christian majority state. The Nigerian government’s refusal to prosecute Muslims who commit crimes against Christians has created a climate of impunity, which vastly compounds the problem. Jubilee Campaign’s work to end the violence in Nigeria takes many forms. Earlier this year it took us to the International Criminal Court at the Hague in the Netherlands. Another form of our work involves providing clear and accurate information on human rights abuses to those such as the U.S. Department of State who report on these issues.

As we have discussed in the past, the formal reports released by the U.S. Department of State play a critical role in human rights work on a variety of issues, including religious freedom. Therefore any errors or omissions in the reports seriously hamper the work of the human rights community. Jubilee Campaign vigilantly urges that the State Department include the information we provide in their reports, but it is an uphill battle. As an example, this “half report” includes strengthened, but still problematic language on the violence in Nigeria’s Plateau State. See this paragraph from the Nigeria Chapter.

The lack of justice and reconciliation in Plateau State after the 2008 violence facilitated the eruption of new communal killings there beginning in January. The violence caused hundreds of deaths, extensive property damage, and the displacement of thousands of residents. NGOs and traditional leaders led conflict resolution efforts to reduce sectarian violence in their communities with only limited success. The government prosecuted few suspects. With little fear of reprisal from the judicial system, the violence continued in the state. Some months experienced more violence than others, but violence has remained at an elevated level since 2008.

Jubilee Campaign hails the State Department’s recognition of the pervasive and deadly climate of impunity in Nigeria. During ten years of arson, assault, manslaughter and murder, only a handful of prosecutions have taken place. In 2010 barely 15 convictions occurred for the hundreds of lives lost that year and these are the first known convictions since the first wave of violence started in September of 2000.

However, the State Department’s version of events leaves much to be desired. Despite the decade-long history of inter-religious violence in Plateau, this report only acknowledges the last major cycle from 2008 to the present, which ignores the history and true genesis of the crisis. We urge the State Department to fairly and fully report the acts of violence committed by Muslim extremists against the Christian community. To facilitate this, in March of 2011 Jubilee Campaign held a Congressional Briefing on the violence in Nigeria, which was attended by a representative from the IRF office. We hope and expect that the State Department’s next report will include the Christmas Eve Terror bombings of 2010, the January and March 2011 outbreaks of violence and the September 11, 2011 bombings in Jos. We ask that the State Department recognize and clearly describe the manner in which Muslim extremists plan and initiate these waves of violence.

We also object to the word “reprisal” as used by the State Department. Vigilante groups may commit reprisals and establish a tenuous peace based on fear, but governments have the responsibility to prosecute criminals in accordance with due process of law. We believe that faithful prosecution and fair reparations, not fear of reprisal, will bring an end to the violence and allow for true healing and stability.

In light of the ties between Nigerian Muslim extremists and international terrorism, Jubilee Campaign believes the situation in Nigeria demands a very serious response. This violence and lack of security threatens the very fabric of the nation of Nigeria, with chilling parallels to Sudan. The situation in Nigeria demands action and in a more just world, the State Department would follow USCIRF’s recommendation and designate Nigeria a “Country of Particular Concern.” In the world we live in, it is unlikely that the U.S. Government will lay sanctions on the fourth largest supplier of oil to America. Nigeria’s prominence as a source of U.N. peacekeeper troops makes it difficult for the international community to bring effective pressure to bear. However, even within the constraints of our political reality, is accurate reporting too much to ask?