Iran ‘Orders Execution’ Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran again ordered the death penalty for jailed Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for refusing to recant his faith in Christ and return to Islam raising fears his execution is imminent, a well-informed church official told BosNewsLife Tuesday, February 21.

“I was informed yesterday evening that the Gilan [Province] Court ordered the execution” said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the pastor’s Church of Iran, one of the country’s largest house church movements.

Khandjani, who is in hiding with his family, added he feared the pastor could be hanged within 24 hours at the Lakan Prison near the northern city of Rasht. “Officially his lawyer still needs to receive a notification first, but nobody keeps the law in Iran,” he told BosNewsLife.

Several other prisoners are known to have been hanged in the prison facility, including at least two last month, according to rights activists.

Khandjani made clear that even if the pastor is not killed Tuesday, the Church of Iran still fears “the execution is imminent because of this order.” He said the lawyer and church was informed about the decision by a trusted source within Iran’s judiciary.

NADARKHANI PRESSURED

The apparent order came after local Christians said last month that Nadarkhani rejected an offer to be released from prison if he publicly acknowledges Islam’s prophet Mohammed as “a messenger sent by God.”

Iranian authorities reportedly summoned lawyers for Pastor Nadarkhani to his home city of Rasht on December 30, to explain the deal. Local officials indicated they would release the pastor if he agreed to make the statement about Mohammed, Christians with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife at the time.

Christians said the pastor made clear that making the demanded statement about Muhammed would amount to abandoning his faith in Jesus Christ.

The 34-year-old Nadarkhani, who is married with two children, has been detained since 2009 when he was captured in his home city of Rasht to register his house church.

The Gilan Court sentenced Nadarkhani to death in November 2010 on charges of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam.

SUPREME COURT 

His appeal against that ruling was seen as being rejected in 2011. The Supreme Court said “he can be executed” but added it would first ask a “re-examination” by the same court that already sentenced him to death.

The Gilan Court eventually asked Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini for an opinion in what critics saw as an attempt to make someone else responsible for his execution.

Khameini is not known to have made a ruling on the case, though Iran has an often highly secretive judicial system.

Church official Khandjani suggested the execution order was part of a new strategy by Iran’s government to take out perceived opponents amid growing international pressure on the country over its nuclear program amid fears the nation develops an atomic bomb.

“If there is ever a war, the regime wants no opponents,” Khanhjani said. Iranian officials have also condemned the spread of Christianity in the country, where church groups have counted at least 100,000 devoted Christians, many of them former Muslims.

DEFENSE SETBACK

The reported execution order came as a setback for the defense team and other observers close to the case who previously said they learned from the court that judges were ordered to “do nothing” for one year.

However Khandjani already warned at that time that Iran’s government may want to execute the pastor earlier. “Saying he will be held one year more does not necessarily mean an earlier execution isn’t possible,” he told BosNewsLife recently.

Iranian officials have defended their actions against Nadarkhani, but recently tried to play down apostasy charges.

Gholam-Ali Rezvani, deputy governor general of the northern province of Gilan where the pastor is being held, told the government linked Fars News Agency (FNA) that Nadarkhani was “a Zionist, a traitor and had committed security crimes,” without elaborating.

Iranian officials have also said their actions are aimed at defending “Islamic values”.

The European Union and the United States have urged Iran to release Nadarkhani.

MORE DETENTIONS

He is is among several pastors and other Christians being detained in the strict Islamic nation.

Among them is also Farshid Fathi Malayeri, an evangelical church leader who has been held in prison since December 2010, Iranian Christians said Tuesday, February 21. His trial reportedly took place earlier this month, February 5, in a Revolutionary Court based in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. The court was expected to deliver its verdict in three months time.

The father-of-two was detained by authorities on December 26, 2010 during raids which targeted a large number of Christian citizens and house church members, many of whom were later released after what rights activists described as “exorbitant bail” payments.

Farshid Fathi Malayeri was kept in solitary confinement for a large part of his incarceration, and interrogated by agents working for the Ministry of Intelligence about his church activities and contacts abroad, said advocacy  group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, (CSW). Eventually, the equivalent of nearly $200,000 was demanded as bail for his release, but when his family eventually managed to raise the money, the authorities refused to release him, rights activists said.

Fathi is reportedly being held in the general ward of the prison. He is believed to be in good health and his family has been allowed to visit him, Christians said.

Iran: Nadarkhani execution fears, death sentence may take place at any time

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been informed that Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer is trying to confirm reports that the Iranian authorities have decided to execute the pastor. There are grave concerns that the death sentence could be carried out at any time without prior notification and that the authorities will merely announce it later, a practice that is not uncommon in Iran.

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is facing a death sentence for apostasy, and has been awaiting a final decision on the verdict for several months. On at least four occasions he has been offered freedom in exchange for renouncing his faith, but has consistently refused to do so.

CSW has also received reports that the long-awaited trial of Farshid Fathi Malayeri, an evangelical church leader who has been held in prison since December 2010, took place on 5 February in a Revolutionary Court based in Evin Prison. The court is expected to deliver its verdict in three months time. Mohabat News reports that the trial had been postponed several times.

The father-of-two was arrested by the authorities on 26 December 2010 during raids which targeted a large number of Christian citizens and house church members, many of whom were later released after exorbitant bail payments.

Farshid Fathi Malayeri was kept in solitary confinement for a large part of his incarceration, and interrogated by agents working for the Ministry of Intelligence about his church activities and contacts abroad. The equivalent of £120,000 was demanded as bail for his release, but when his family eventually managed to raise the money, the authorities refused to release him.

Fathi is now reportedly being held in the general ward of the prison. He is believed to be in good health and his family has been allowed to visit him.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW is deeply concerned at the very real possibility that Pastor Nadarkhani’s death sentence could be carried out at any time, despite the fact that there is no legal basis for this sentence. We urge the international community to press the Iranian government to release Pastor Nadarkhani, Farshid Fathi Malayeri and others who are unjustly imprisoned or facing execution following flawed judicial processes. It is unacceptable that Farshid Fathi Malayeri had to endure over a year of incarceration while awaiting his trial date, including a lengthy time in solitary confinement. CSW also remains deeply concerned at the ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha’is and other minorities, actions which contravene international covenants to which Iran is signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion. We urge the Iranian authorities to follow due process, and ensure respect for the right to freedom of religion.”

Iran Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani Likely to Remain in Jail Another Year

An Iranian court is likely to delay its verdict in a case concerning Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is facing death penalty for converting to Christianity, to allow authorities to further coerce him to convert to Islam as he remains in jail.

The evangelical pastor’s lawyer has learned that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, has asked the presiding judge over the trial, Ghazi Kashani, to delay the pending judgment and keep him in prison for another year, Present Truth Ministries said in a statement Thursday.

Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old house church leader from the Church of Iran denomination, was convicted of apostasy last year and was sentenced to death by hanging. However, the Supreme Court of Iran asked for the retrial of his case by a lower court in the city of Rasht in northern Gilan Province.

The deliberate delay is meant to let the case “slip away from international attention” even as the authorities continue to “use whatever means necessary to cause him to convert to Islam,” said Jason DeMars, the founder of the ministry that was first to report on the pastor’s arrest two years ago.

It was earlier learnt that the court in Rasht had asked Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the highest ranking political and religious authority in Shi’a-majority Iran, to rule on whether the pastor should be put to death.

The pastor was arrested in October 2009 from Rasht for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools for his children, Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7, and after he sought to register his church. Authorities, however, later changed the charges to apostasy. He has been lodged in a prison in Lakan, about seven miles south of Rasht, since then.

‘Tweet for Youcef’ Campaign Attracts Thousands to Imprisoned Iranian Pastor’s Case

The “Tweet for Youcef” campaign started by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has successfully drawn international attention toward the plight of imprisoned Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, with his story said to reach 297,292 Twitter accounts daily.

The American Center for Law and Justice began the “Tweet for Youcef” campaign less than two weeks ago and has already garnered a massive following, reaching 160 counties.

According to the ACLJ website, people living in Islamic countries run by Sharia law, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Kuwait, are receiving and tweeting information regarding Pastor Nadarkhani.

“Tweet for Youcef” involves a Twitter application that allows the ACLJ to send a daily tweet regarding Nadarkhani’s plight via another user’s account.

The daily tweet includes the number of days Nadarkhani has been imprisoned in Iran, facts about his court case, and a link back to the ACLJ’s Nadarkhani information page.

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in Oct. 2009 and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. As of Thursday, Feb. 9, he has spent more than 848 days in prison as he awaits his verdict, which currently sits in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader and highest authority, for final review.

Although he may face execution unless he recants his Christian faith, Nadarkhani has repeatedly stood strong in his Christian beliefs.

Critics agree that Iran, by prolonging Nadarkhani’s case for multiple years, is attempting to remove his name from the international spotlight. This is why the ACLJ and other organizations, including The Voice of the Martyrs USA, continue to remind the public that Nadarkhani is still imprisoned and Iran is in stark violation of human rights policies.

“[We] are confident from our meeting that Pastor Youcef’s plight will not be forgotten,” Jordan Sekulow, Director of Policy and International Operations of the ACLJ, previously wrote in his blog post regarding his Nov. 2011 meeting with the U.S. State Department.

After the meeting, the U.S. State Department openly called for Nadarkhani’s release. In addition, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Europe Union, 89 members of Congress, France, Great Britain Mexico, and Germany have all publically requested Iran to immediately release Nadarkhani.

Nadarkhani, reportedly in his mid-30s and a married father of two, currently awaits his verdict in an Iranian jail.

‘Tweet for Youcef’ Keeps Spotlight on Iranian Pastor Nadarkhani

In an effort to ensure the court case of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani stay in the international spotlight, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has taken to the social media platform Twitter to maintain public awareness for Nadarkhani’s plight.

The ACLJ organization is sponsoring the “Tweet for Youcef” campaign. The Twitter application would allow the ACLJ to send a daily tweet regarding Youcef Nadarkhani via another user’s account.

The tweet would entail the number of days Nadarkhani has been imprisoned, facts about his court case, and a link back to the ACLJ’s Nadarkhani information page. The tweet would end in “Via OfficialACLJ.”

This is just one way human rights watchdogs are attempting to keep Nadarkhani’s case in the public eye. Other organizations, including The Voice of the Martyrs USA, offers those following Nadarkhani’s case the opportunity to write to him, offering him words of encouragement.

“The good news is that he has really stood firm in his faith, and the other good news is that the world is still paying attention,” Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development at The Voice of the Martyrs, previously told The Christian Post.

Nadarkhani’s case has also received a large amount of international pressure.