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.
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.”