By now you’ve probably heard. Youcef Nadarkhani (about whom I’ve blogged several times, including here, here and here) was released from prison four weeks ago.
After a six-hour hearing, he was acquitted of the capital charge of apostasy, convicted instead of evangelizing Muslims, and sentenced to three years in prison. He was then released on time served. (Nadarkhani was originally arrested in October, 2009, for protesting the government’s decision to force all children, including his, to study the Quran in school.)
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Iranian government didn’t let the grass grow under their feet. Nadarkhani’s attorney, renowned human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, was arrested last week.
Youcef Nadarkhani with wife Fatemah Pasindedah and sons Daniel & Yoel, c. 2009
After having run through the Iranian appeals process, Youcef Nadarkhani has received a final sentence of death from the 11th Chamber of The Assize Court of the Province of Gilan, according to reports that our State Department is taking very seriously. The original execution order, handed down in September, 2010, mandated that:
. . . the above-mentioned person as an apostate will be executed by being hanged until somehow his soul is taken from him.
Though the trial court found no evidence that Nadarkhani had ever practiced Islam, he has been sentenced to death for being an apostate–that is, for renouncing Islam (can you really renounce a faith you never practiced?) and converting to Christianity.
Nadarkhani with son Yoel, 2009
Today is Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s 841st day in prison. He’s waiting to be hanged.
For being a Christian.
In a country whose constitution guarantees religious freedom. Go figure.
According to a central European news agency, human rights activists in Iran have reported that, on December 30th, the government offered Nadarkhani release in return for a public statement that Mohammed was “a messenger sent by God.” Nadarkhani declined the deal, saying that the statement would be tantamount to repudiating his faith in Christ.
Now the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is reporting that the Chief Justice of the Gilan Provincial Court is again pressuring Nadarkhani to recant his faith.
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.
Youcef Nadarkhani with son, Yoel c. 2009
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.
The good news first: The White House yesterday condemned the conviction and death sentence against Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. He has been found guilty of the capital crime of being a Christian. Here is his story, if you’re not familiar with it.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide csw.org.uk
The bad news: It took two years. That’s how long it’s been since Nadarkhani was originally convicted of apostasy by the 11th Chamber of The Assize Court of the Province of Gilan. (Here is a translation of that court’s verdict.)
And it wasn’t a matter worthy of the President’s time or direct influence–it was just another brief statement by the press secretary.
But maybe I should be more generous, and just call it eleven months. That’s how long it’s been since the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the President to press for Nadarkhani’s immediate and unconditional release.