Photo: Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (courtesy ACLJ)
As Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani nears 1,000 days in prison in Iran, activists worldwide are pressuring the Iranian government for his release. Earlier this month Nadarkhani celebrated his 35th birthday in the prison cell where he awaits execution for the crime of apostasy.
Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries keeps in close contact with Iranian church leaders close to the imprisoned pastor. In a recent update posted on the group's website, DeMars confirms that his organization has “received word from our sources that … Nadarkhani is alive,” although according to DeMars, “no verdict has been issued in his case.” He reports that “The local court is still waiting for either Ayatollah Khameini or Ayatollah Larijani to give them their legal opinion in the case.”
Family Visits Imprisoned Pastor
In spite of the lack of progress on his case, Nadarkhani received a rare gift on his birthday – his wife and children were allowed to come visit him in prison. Matthew Clark of American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reports: “Our sources in Iran have confirmed to the ACLJ that Pastor Youcef was allowed to see his entire family on his birthday. This was a rare family reunion in the jail where he has been held for more than two and a half years since he was arrested for questioning the Muslim indoctrination of his children and later charged and convicted of apostasy.”
Clark also notes that Nadarkhani was able to have a rare visit with his local Iranian attorneys as well, an “important meeting as he faces impending execution for his faith.” Clark says that one of the biggest obstacles facing the imprisoned pastor is the “limited access” that he has to his attorneys.
Cases of Religious Persecution on the Rise
As Nadarkhani's case drags on with few updates, 12 Christians in Iran were put on trial on Easter Sunday. Jason DeMars reports that those charged have not yet received a verdict, but they are “expecting it to be delivered in the next few weeks.”
Lisa Daftari of Fox News reports that cases of persecution against religious minorities in Iran are on the rise. “Though the Iranian constitution grants protection to religious minorities born into religions, such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, over the last year and a half individuals in these minority communities have reported increased pressure and clashes with government officials and Revolutionary Guards as their influence continues to mount throughout the country,” she says.
Seven Baha'i Leaders Remain in Prison
Youcef Nadarkhani's case has drawn attention to multiple imprisonments of religious leaders throughout Iran, including the case of seven Baha'i religious leaders who have already spent a collective 10,000 days in prison for their faith. The international Baha'i community has been vocal in protesting Nadarkhani's arrest, even as their own leaders languish in prison.
The Baha'i international community condemned Nadarkhani's imprisonment as far back as October, calling for his immediate release. “We join with the global chorus of condemnation protesting the sentencing of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, and calling for his release,” according to the statement released in October 2011.
“For a court of law to rule against someone from Muslim ancestry who has freely chosen to be a Christian is yet another instance of the brutality being meted out by the Iranian authorities on their own people,” the statement continues. “The recent public proclamation reporting that the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani have been changed – as a result of the global outcry at his conviction – only further exposes the arbitrary nature of decisions made by the judiciary system of Iran and the transparent injustice of the situation.”
Adherents to the Baha'i faith in Iran comprise the country's largest minority religion, with an estimated 300,000 members. Christians in Iran, according to the most conservative estimates, number roughly 100,000.
Congressional Resolution Calls for Nadarkhani's Release
A Congressional resolution condemning Nadarkhani's imprisonment passed the U.S. House of Representatives nearly unanimously, with a 417-1 vote. The official summary according to the Congressional Research Service states the the resolution “condemns Iran for its systemic violations of the human rights of the Iranian people, including the state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in Iran, and its continued failure to uphold its international obligations, including with respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
The resolution “calls on Iran to exonerate and release Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religious or political beliefs, calls on the Administration to designate Iranian officials for human rights abuses,” and “reaffirms that freedom of religious practice is a universal human right and a fundamental individual freedom that every government must protect.”
Campaign for Pastor's Release Continues
With few updates on Nadarkhani's status in prison, advocates are seeking to keep his case alive in the media. After his family was allowed to visit, Matthew Clark of ACLJ commented that the good news “comes as more and more of the world hears of Pastor Youcef’s plight and calls for his freedom.” The ACLJ reports that “Pastor Youcef's story has now reached over 93 percent of the United Nations member states,” and that their “Tweet for Youcef” campaign in English and Portugese continues to impact users daily.
What's next for the campaign to save Youcef Nadarkhani? “The ACLJ is continuing to work aggressively with national and international leaders in the fight to save Pastor Youcef’s life,” according to Clark. “Please continue to pray for his release, and share his story on Facebook and Twitter.”
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: April 20, 2012