Tehran to execute Christian pastor for ‘apostasy'

United States, British governments have condemned the planned execution, call on Iran to waive the death penalty for Nadarkhani.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 2, 2011 01:28
3 minute read.
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Iranian Flag (R)_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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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 penalty.

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 of Rasht.

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In 2010, Nadarkhani was convicted based on apostasy charges for abandoning Islam.

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 religious freedom.”

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 citizens.”

Nadarkhani, a father of two young children, ministered to a congregation of 400 Christians before he was imprisoned in 2009.



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 Thursday.

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 murderers.”

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.

Some “Christians speak even about 500,000 new converts” to Christianity, he said.

“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 said.

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