BERLIN – The charge of apostasy from Islam lodged against Iranian Christian cleric Youcef Nadarkhani has been amended to allegations of rape, extortion and national security, CNN reported on Saturday. He still faces the death penalty.
Critics of Iran’s judiciary system view the altered charges as a manufactured tactic meant to blunt international criticism of the case targeting Nadarkhani because of his religious activities.
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Nadarkhani is now confronted with the death penalty because of the new allegations, including that he is a “Zionist.”
“His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity. He is guilty of security-related crimes,” Gholomali Rezvani, the deputy governor of Gilan province, said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Nadarkhani “is a Zionist and has committed security-related crimes,” Rezvani said in a separate statement, CNN reported.
In 2010, Nadarkhani was convicted and sentenced in the province of Gilan because he questioned Islam as the dominant form of religious instruction in Iran and sought to register his church.
CNN obtained the legal documents from 2010 that charged Nadarkhani solely with apostasy. The court papers state: “Mr. Youcef Nadarkhani, son of Byrom, 32 years old, married, born in Rasht in the state of Gilan, is convicted of turning his back on Islam, the greatest religion, the prophesy of Muhammad, at the age of 19.”
The court documents continue that “[Nadarkhani] has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim. During many sessions in court in the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir – ol-vasileh.” Tahrir – ol-vasileh is a book (in two volumes and four editions) authored by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Khomeini as a guide for Muslims.
FoxNews.com also secured a copy of the original ruling and noted, “There is not a single mention of rape or extortion allegations.”
Fox News wrote, “The ruling also alleges that he also participated in Christian worship by holding home church services and baptizing himself and others, effectively breaking Islamic Law.” The American Center for Law and Justice translated the legal rulings into English.
Nasrin Amirsedghi, a German- Iranian academic and author, told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday, “As soon as Iran’s regime is placed under international pressure because of its barbaric Middle Age laws, the regime looks for another reason to peddle” its case against Nadarkhani.
“According to classical Islamic law, particularly Shi’ite case law, the death penalty is clearly applied to apostasy,” she continued.
Amirsedghi, who has written extensively on the application of Shari’a law, said that “not even a fatwa [Islamic legal opinion] from a mujtahid [Islamic scholar] can prevent” an execution for apostasy.
“Therefore, to implement the death penalty, the regime devised absurd accusations like ‘rape and espionage.’ It is the regime’s method. Moreover, it’s clear that the regime is afraid because many people – precisely after years of Islamic brutality – are turning away from Islam,” Amirsedghi said.
Last week, the US and British governments blasted Tehran for the planned execution of Nadarkhani and Iran’s repression of its population and religious freedoms.
Mohammadali Dadkhah, Nadarkhani’s lawyer, believes that his client will not be executed.
“The case is still in progress. There’s a 95 percent that he won’t get the death penalty. Yes, I still believe that,” Dadkhah said, according to Western media reports.
Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told Fox, “The only question now is whether the Iranian government is actually leveling these new charges against him in court or just throwing out new accusations to try and deflect media attention.”