Photo: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (courtesy American Center of Law & Justice)
Last week Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the imprisoned pastor facing a death sentence in Iran, spoke out publicly for the first time in over a year. Individuals working on his case, including attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice, believe that the letter is valid, and was written by Nadarkhani himself. “Present Truth Ministries [an organization working on the pastor's case] received the letter from its sources inside Iran,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director at ACLJ, told FoxNews.com. “We believe the sources providing this letter have proven to be credible throughout this case and, therefore, we believe that Pastor Youcef is the author.”
Nadarkhani's open letter addresses “all those who are concerned and worried about my current situation.” He writes about his challenges in prison, and his efforts to maintain his faith, stating that his is in “perfect health,” and trying to consider his imprisonment as “the day of exam and trial of my faith.”
Sekulow is optimistic about what the letter signifies. “It is very encouraging that Pastor Youcef is not only able to communicate with the outside world, but that he is aware of the international outcry on his behalf,” he says. “News of his story is reaching all the way around the world back into the heart of Iran.”
Youcef’s Attorney Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison
But while the letter has evoked a positive response from advocates, Nadarkhani is presently facing a more dire challenge. His case took a devastating turn earlier this month when Nadarkhani's attorney was sentenced to nine years in prison. Iranian lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah has represented a number of human rights and democracy advocates in Iran – resulting in his own suspension from law, and his subsequent arrest.
"I was in a court in Tehran defending one of my clients, Davoud Arjangi, a jailed political activist on death row when the judge told me that my own sentence has been approved and I will be shortly summoned to jail to serve the nine-year sentence," he told the Guardian on May 3. "I have been convicted of acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home," he explained.
'No Legal Representation'
Jay Sekulow of ACLJ says that Pastor Nadarkhani's situation is a desperate one in light of his attorney's arrest. “Make no mistake about it,” he said last week. “The circumstances facing Pastor Youcef are now more dire than ever. Without an attorney, he has no legal representation -- no advocate to keep him alive and to keep the appeals process going.”
Sekulow says that Pastor Youcef has become a symbol of the persecuted church in Iran, and that “the Iranian regime views Christianity as a political movement, subversive to their regime.”
With little access to the outside world, Nadarkhani says he is simply “trying to do the best in my power to stay right with what I have learned from God’s commandments.” He says that, “though my trial due has been so long, and as in the flesh I wish these days to end, yet I have surrendered myself to God’s will.”
Advocacy Efforts Continue
He is grateful for the advocacy and support of individuals around the world. “From time to time I am informed about the news which is spreading in the media about my current situation, for instance being supported by various churches and famous politicians who have asked for my release, or campaigns and human rights activities which are going on against the charges which are applied to me,” he writes. “I do believe that these kind of activities can be very helpful in order to reach freedom, and respecting the human rights in a right way can bring forth great results in this.”
But Nadarkhani has words of caution – even disgust – for those who are criticizing Islam on his behalf.“I am neither a political person nor do I know about political complicity,” he writes, “but I know that while there are many things in common between different cultures, there are also differences between these cultures around the world which can result in criticism, which most of the times response to this criticisms will be harsh and as a result will lengthen our problems.”
Nadarkhani makes it clear that he appreciates support, but he has no patience for those who are simply making matters worse with inflammatory words – notably mentioning U.S. pastor Terry Jones, who recently burned copies of the Koran in protest of Nadarkhani’s imprisonment.
“I want to appreciate all those are trying to reach to this goal [of release],” he says. “But at the other hand, I’d like to announce my disgust at insulting words or activities which make stress and trouble, which unfortunately are done with the justification [excuse] of defending human rights and freedom, for the final result is so clear and obvious for me,” he stated. “Insulting the belief of other nations or people, whether they be a majority or minority, is not accepted and is an unworthy deed, specifically for those who have this teaching to love and respect others more than themselves and treat them the same as you want to be treated.”
International support for Nadarkhani’s case continues, with the ACLJ Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani reaching more than 2 million Twitter accounts worldwide. In the conclusion of his letter, Nadarkhani asked for prayer, and a blessing for readers, “May God’s Grace and Mercy be upon you now and forever,” he wrote.
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 kristinwright.net. Kristin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: May 14, 2012