Iranian Flag (R)_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
BERLIN – An Iranian Christian cleric on death row because of his conversion
years ago from Islam prompted the United States and British governments last
week to condemn the planned execution and call on Tehran to waive the death
Youcef Nadarkhani, who is believed to be either 32 or 34 years
old, converted to Christianity at the age of 19. Iranian authorities
incarcerated him in 2009 because he questioned Islam as the dominant form of
religious instruction in Iran and registered his church in the northwestern city
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In 2010, Nadarkhani was convicted based on apostasy charges for
British Foreign Secretary William said last week: “I
deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian church leader, could
be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to
recant his faith. This demonstrates the Iranian regime’s continued unwillingness
to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect
Hague continued, “I pay tribute to the courage shown
by Pastor Nadarkhani, who has no case to answer, and call on the Iranian
authorities to overturn his sentence.”
US White House spokesman Jay
Carney said, “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
Nadarkhani, a father of two young children, ministered to a
congregation of 400 Christians before he was imprisoned in
Nadarkhani’s lawyer said, “The judge kept asking my client to say:
‘I have renounced Christianity and I recognize Islam’... and he kept saying, ‘I
won’t say that,” the online International Business Times reported on
Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, an expert on minority groups and
religions in the Islamic Republic, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that “new
Christian movements are persecuted in Iran. They are organized in underground
home churches... And Mr. Nadarkhani was a priest of a home church. After the
Islamic revolution, some priests were killed by unknown
Wahdat-Hagh, a senior fellow at the Brusselsbased European
Foundation for Democracy, cited the execution of Iranian priest Mehrdi Dibaj.
“He was arrested after the revolution, because he converted,” and “executed
because of apostasy” in 1993, Wahdat-Hagh said.
There are 40,000 members
of underground churches in the Iran, according to Wahdat-Hagh.
“Christians speak even about 500,000 new converts” to Christianity, he
“In Iran the Islamic apostasy law is still not in a paragraph of
the penal legislation. The draft is still not ratified. This leads to the fact
that any judge in Iran can give the death sentence for apostasy arbitrary, since
it is an Islamic law,” Wahdat-Hagh said.
The former Anglican bishop of
Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, urged Nadarkhani not to
renounce his Christian beliefs, the BBC reported.
“As a Christian I can’t
do that. In a much lesser way I have faced these questions myself, and I would
ask for myself for strength in this situation and courage, and that is what I
would ask for him.
“But at the same time to ask that understanding and
compassion and clemency be exercised by those who are in authority, Nazir-Ali