Over the past several years we have been greatly concerned for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. Pastor Yousef has been viciously persecuted by the Iranian government. He was thrown in jail, tortured and his wife and children were threatened. Finally the Iranian government put him on trial for apostasy. After a lower court sentenced him to death, the Iranian Supreme Court took the case. When they released a verdict which appeared to reverse the death sentence we, along with many others in the human rights community, were overjoyed. However it appears that our celebration was premature. The verdict requires that Pastor Yousef “repent” in order to escape the death penalty. Such a requirement has ominous overtones in Iran.
There has been some debate about the meaning of the verdict. Pastor Yousef’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that “Because apostasy is not mentioned in Iran’s penal code, and apostasy is not considered a crime, then the court has to consider Mr. Nadarkhani’s case in the context of [the crime] ‘insulting the Prophet of Islam.’ In this respect, since my client has not made any insults, he can tell the same to the court.”
Mr. Dadkhah is deeply committed to human rights and has sacrificed much to defend Pastor Yousef. He faces a nine year prison sentence and a ten year ban on his law practice for defending an innocent man. However, from the beginning the Iranian government has been on a campaign to break Pastor Yousef’s faith. It will take a miracle for them to be satisfied by a continuing statement that Pastor Yousef has done nothing wrong. Instead, it is likely that the Iranian government will take ‘repentance’ to mean the denial of Pastor Yousef’s Christian faith, despite Mr. Dadkhah’s hopes.
At this critical time, we are pleased to be able to report to you that the U.S. State Department is putting pressure on the Iranians. The statement below is a strong indication of official U.S. support for Pastor Yousef. But merely because the secular powers have mobilized does not mean that we have any less responsibility. We ask you to take time, and even inform your churches, and pray with us.
· Clear annulment of the death sentence for Yousef Naderkhani
· Acquittal and release of all other Christians held in prison.
· Five specific prisoners to pray for are: Vahik Abrahamian; Farshid Fathi; Abrahim Firouzi; Masoud Delijani; and Noorollah Ghabitzadeh.
· The end of the hostility towards Christians from the Iranian government.
The U.S. State Department
Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy – a charge based on his religious beliefs. If carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy in Iran since 1990.
He is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran, including the seven leaders of the Baha’i community whose imprisonment was increased to 20 years for practicing their faith and hundreds of Sufis who have been flogged in public because of their beliefs.
While Iran’s leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, they continue to detain, imprison, harass, and abuse those who simply wish to worship the faith of their choosing.
We join the international community in continuing to call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens and uphold its international commitments to protect them.