And let’s not forget Youcef Nadarkhani
I wrote the end of September about the President’s long and shameful silence concerning the death sentence against Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
Nadarkhani, 34, is pastor of perhaps the fastest-growing house church in Iran, currently numbering some 400 people. He’s married to Fatemah Pasindedah, and father of Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7. Five years ago, when he tried to register his church with the state, he was arrested, but soon released.
In October, 2009, he went to local school officials to request that his sons not be required to recite the Q’ran and study Islam at their local public school. He was arrested again, this time on charges of apostasy, and has been imprisoned ever since. He was found guilty by the trial court and sentenced to death by hanging.
Nadarkhani appealed the decision to Iran’s Supreme Court. Last June, they referred the case back to the lower court, saying the sentence could be carried out provided that Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim between the ages of 15 (legal adulthood in Iran) and 19 (when he converted to Christianity).
The trial court found no evidence that Nadarkhani had ever practiced Islam. But this past September, they upheld the death sentence anyway. They said he was born of Muslim parents and thus had been Muslim prior to becoming a Christian. They gave Nadarkhani four chances to recant and return to Islam.
He refused each time.
The case began receiving international attention. Nearly 200,000 people signed just one of several petitions circulating in support of Nadarkhani. 89 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, requesting her involvement in the case. Britain, France, and (fi-i-i-inally) the U.S. voiced support for Nadarkhani.
More than one Middle East analyst has suggested that this international pressure is probably the only reason Nadarkhani is still alive.
Iranian officials suddenly pulled a 180 and said that, well, actually, nobody in Iran was ever executed over religion (because of course Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that would be a wa-a-a-ay big violation of that covenant) and that, actually, Nadarkhani had been tried for rape and extortion.
This is where we would all break out in raucous laughter, were a man’s life not on the line. Unfortunately for those feckless officials, they had been leaving a paper trail behind them that was all about apostasy.
But the trial court didn’t hang Nadarkhani. In a highly unusual move—and a good indicator that international protest was having an effect—they instead sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatolloh Ali Khamenei, the nation’s highest Sharia law authority, asking him to make the final decision.
The court has indicated that if it doesn’t hear from him, it will hand down its final sentence in mid-December.
Sources close to Nadarkhani say that secret service operatives in the prison have given him a book arguing the superiority of Islam to Christianity. They’ve said they’ll be back, and expressed interest in hearing his opinion of it. It’s a win-win situation, for them. If they can persuade him to renounce Christianity, they win; if they can get him to speak against Islam, they’ll have evidence that he is a blasphemer (also, of course, a capital offense under Sharia law).
Nadarkhani has been advised by his family, church and lawyers not to give that particular book report.
His attorney, a brave Muslim, reports that Nadarkhani is physically weak, but emotionally and spiritually strong as he waits in prison for the final outcome of his case.
According to Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the State Department is continuing to actively work for Nadarkhani’s release.
And Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, mentioned Nadarkhani in a speech last week at the U.S. Institute of Peace:
I want to echo President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s—and repeat my own—condemnation of his conviction and our calls on Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani immediately. I urge all of you to do the same.
Iran’s courts are not unfamiliar with the tactic of dragging out cases, waiting till the rest of the world, with our three-minute attention spans, move on to the next thing. Let’s be better than they think we are, shall we?
Let’s have memories like elephants.
Email the Iranian Ambassador to the U.S. here to ask for the release of Youcef Nadarkhani. Sign a the petition to Secretary Clinton here, urging her to continue to put pressure on Iran to free Nadarkhani. Use a letter-writing tool to write Nadarkhani here.