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Iran pastor facing death for apostasy
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
08/07/2012
Pastor Youcef is scheduled to appear in court for unexplained hearing on September 8 after 1,000 days in prison.
 
BERLIN – Iran has scheduled a September court date for evangelical Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, whose incarceration for practicing Christianity reaches the 1,000-day mark on Sunday.

In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law & Justice, wrote, “We have confirmed that Pastor Youcef is scheduled to appear in court on September 8. We do not know the purpose of the appearance or the likelihood of new charges. We want to dispel any rumors that his current apostasy charge, for which he was sentenced to death, has been removed. Until the regime unconditionally exonerates and releases Pastor Youcef, his apostasy charge stands.”

The center, which has been the principal advocate of Nadarkhani’s release, is a US-based organization that defends religious freedom.

“What we do know is this latest development occurs just days before Sunday, July 8, which marks the 1,000th day of captivity for Pastor Youcef. We will continue to closely monitor developments surrounding this new court date and remain hopeful that growing international attention ultimately will result in his unconditional release. Our global support to free Pastor Youcef continues to grow. Our Tweet for Youcef campaign now reaches more than 2.5 million people a day in more than 220 counties and territories,” Sekulow added.

The case of Nadarkhani, 35, has shone a spotlight on the Iranian government’s intensified campaign to shut down churches and imprison advocates of religious freedom.

Nadarkhani attorney, Muhammad Ali Dadkhah, was issued a nine-year prison sentence and prohibited from practicing law because of his work for religious freedom.

Markus Löning, Germany’s federal commissioner for human rights, told the Evangelical Press Service last week that there is strong persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. Christians, Sufis, Bahais, Kurds and Ahwazi Arabs are “victims of arbitrary Iranian Justice,” he said.

Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 because he questioned the mandatory Islamic education of his children and sought to register a home-based church. The Iranian authorities sentenced him to death in 2010 for apostasy.

In September 2011, Gholomali Rezvani, the deputy governor of Gilan province, said that Nadarkhani “is a Zionist and has committed security-related crimes.”

The pastor was born in born in Rasht, a city with a million inhabitants on the Caspian Sea in Gilan province, where he was sentenced to death. Court documents reveal that his conversion from non-practicing Muslim to Christianity was the reason for the death sentence.

When asked about reports that new allegations have been leveled, Sekulow wrote, “We have no evidence the regime has changed or added new charges against Pastor Youcef. Pastor Youcef was summoned to appear before the court on September 8, but no rationale was given for this summons. It has always been a possibility that the regime could bring new or additional charges against Pastor Youcef to justify its actions. But to speculate that new, unconfirmed charges also means the regime removed the threat of death creates a danger that the world will stop paying attention.

"We have no information that the regime has acquitted Pastor Youcef of the apostasy charge for which he was sentenced to death. The Iranian regime has been dishonest repeatedly in the past. Until we see Pastor Youcef walk freely, we cannot trust anything the regime might say or do,” said Sekulow.

In an email to the Post on Saturday, Jason DeMars, a representative of the Minnesota- based Present Truth Ministries, wrote, “Our hope is that people around the world will continue to tweet about and share updates about Youcef and in so doing contact their elected officials and ask them to continue to call for the release of Pastor Youcef.”
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