I've been covering Youcef Nadarkhani's imprisonment since February of this year, when Iran handed down execution orders for the 34-year-old Iranian pastor. Nadarkhani, a father with two young children, was first arrested in 2009 and later charged with apostasy, the “crime” of converting to Christianity from Islam.
Since my first article covering his execution order, I have received more emails and comments on Nadarkhani's case than on any other case I have covered. There must be something about an innocent man condemned to death that brings out compassion in all of us – except, of course, Iranian government officials.
Today, Youcef Nadarkhani sits in a solitary cell awaiting his execution. And in spite of Iran's poor human rights record, I continue to be shocked by new levels of callous disregard for human rights exhibited by the Iranian government. In their most brazen move yet – an act that has astonished human rights advocates – Iran has sentenced Nadarkhani's attorney to nine years in prison, leaving the pastor with no legal representation, and no advocate to keep the appeals process underway. Given this drastic turn of events, the current outlook for Nadarkhani is a grim one.
I can say with certainty that the only heartening facts in this case relate to the tremendous outpouring of support that Nadarkhani has received – from the U.S. government, the media and millions of individuals around the world. The White House has released two statements calling for the pastor's release, and condemning the death sentence as “yet another shocking breach of Iran's international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for his release. And virtually every major media outlet has extensively covered the pastor's plight.
In his recently released letter, Nadarkhani mentioned that he is informed “from time to time ... about the news which is spreading in the media about my current situation,” and that he has heard of “being supported by various churches and famous politicians who have asked for my release, or campaigns and human rights activities which are going on.” I only hope that he knows the depth of the concern felt around the world.
When I first started covering the case in February, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) had launched a Twitter campaign for Nadarkhani's release. By the end of that month, it had reached 400,000 participants – each of whom were re-tweeting details of the pastor's case daily. Today, the campaign has reached 2 million.
All the time I receive emails and comments expressing support for Nadarkhani. Occasionally there are messages for Nadarkhani himself, messages I wish he could personally receive in his prison cell. “Pastor Youcef and family, you're always in our thoughts and prayers,” one reader recently wrote. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
If there is anything I want to say about the Nadarkhani case right now, it's that your voice makes a difference. In an era when shocking stories of human rights violations make the news every day, I'm encouraged and inspired by the overwhelmingly compassionate response to this one man's plight. Justice for Nadarkhani will only occur if we raise our voices loud enough to make a difference. So keep talking – and tweeting. Let's send the Iranian government a message they can't ignore.
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights and religious freedom issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted via her website at kristinwright.net or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: May 15, 2012