Photo: Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (courtesy ACLJ)
A U.S.-based human rights group says it has received news of an execution order issued for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Christian pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2009. A 34-year-old father of two, Nadarkhani remains behind bars in Iran’s Lakan Prison, awaiting news of his fate.
On Monday Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), announced that his organization had received word from their contacts in Iran of an “extremely dangerous turn of events for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” stating that “there is an increased likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute Pastor Youcef for his faith.”
A council member from Nadarkhani’s church in Iran, Firouz Khandjani, says that the pastor was "allowed yesterday to speak with his wife from prison." He said that Nadarkhani “did not speak with her about the court order,” but that he “urges his church to stay firmly in Christ."
Risks of a Secret Execution
Jordan Sekulow says that “it is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order.” The organization has confirmed that Nadarkhani was alive as of Wednesday night, February 22, but Sekulow says that the risk of a secret execution is imminent. “The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public — most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.”
The American Center for Law and Justice has been leading a campaign for Nadarkhani’s release since 2009. The organization says that he has been illegally imprisoned for 864 days.
Sekulow adds that “There has been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month,” and that “Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.”
Charged with Apostasy
Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 in Iran’s northern city of Rasht in 2009. He had protested the teaching of Islam in the public school that his children attended. Although Youcef was originally arrested for protesting, the charges later changed to apostasy, the crime of leaving Islam for another religion. Nadarkhani has maintained that he has not been a practicing Muslim since becoming an adult, but Iran’s Gilan Provincial Court determined that since he had Muslim ancestry, he must recant his Christian faith. According to Nadarkhani’s attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, he has been given three chances to recant his faith. Nadarkhani has refused.
According to the American Center for Law & Justice, Pastor Youcef’s case “had been stalled due to increased international pressure,” but now, “because Pastor Youcef has continually refused to give into the regime’s demands that he renounce his Christian faith, the likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute him increases by the day.”
'More Critical Than Ever'
Jordan Sekulow of ACLJ states that “Iran has demonstrated its resolve to ignore its international obligations, whether by its continued attempt to gain nuclear power or its continued disregard for human rights.” He says that “it is more critical than ever to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime to overturn Pastor Youcef’s death sentence and release him immediately,” and that “if Iran executes Pastor Youcef, it could be the catalyst for the extinction of Christianity in Iran.”
The American Center for Law and Justice is just one of many organizations and individuals protesting the pastor’s imprisonment. Calls for his release have come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 89 members of Congress.
The White House Speaks Out
In September of 2011, the White House released a statement on Pastor Nadarkhani, saying that his arrest “crosses all bounds of decency and breaches Iran’s own internal obligations.” In the statement, the White House condemns the conviction of the pastor, stating that “Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people,” adding that “a decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens.”
The statement concludes by calling on the Iranian authorities “to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.”
Congressional Resolution Calls for Nadarkhani’s Release
On February 17, 2012, Rep. Joe Pitts introduced a Congressional Resolution calling for the pastor’s release. The resolution centers on “Condemning the Government of Iran for its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing of Youcef Nadarkhani on the charge of apostasy,” and calls for Nadarkhani’s immediate release.
In the statement, the House of Representatives “condemns the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its continued violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for the Government of Iran to exonerate and immediately release Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religion.”
Campaign for Nadarkhani’s Release Continues
American Center for Law & Justice generated a Twitter campaign for the pastor’s release, a campaign reaching over 400,000 Twitter users daily, who are re-tweeting updates about the imprisoned pastor.
The Christian Post says that Nadarkhani's wife, Fatema Pasindedih, and their two sons, Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7, are waiting for news on the pastor’s fate. According to Firouz Khandjani, a spokesman from Nadarkhani’s church, the pastor was recently asked by the court to acknowledge that the Prophet Mohammad was a messenger from God. “But he refused because he did not want to recant his faith in Christ. That's why the execution order came.”
Readers can join the campaign to free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani at the American Center for Law and Justice website, where visitors can sign a petition for the pastor’s release, as well as join the Twitter campaign.
Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: February 23, 2012