Pastor’s Death Sentence Exposes Death of Iran’s Conscience

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October 2, 2011

To cover up the untenable death sentence of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani for apostasy, an Iranian official has claimed that his sentencing is for “rape,” “extortion” and “security related” charges.

On Sept. 30, Gholomali Rezvani, deputy governor of Gilan province where the pastor was tried, told the local Fars news agency that Nadarkhani’s crime was not, “as some claim, converting others to Christianity.” He is guilty of “security-related crimes… He is a Zionist.” Rezvani alleged that the pastor was a “rapist” and “extortionist,” and claimed that, “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion.”

“The fabrication of charges against Pastor Nadarkhani is to justify his sentence and is therefore acknowledgement that death for apostasy is not justifiable,” said Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance which represents over 600 million evangelical Christians around the world. “The authorities’ attempt to maintain the pastor’s capital punishment by adding false charges shows that Iran is going against its own conscience.”

The evangelical pastor, in his early 30s, is from the Church of Iran denomination. He was arrested two years ago from the city of Rasht in northern Gilan Province on charges of protesting Islamic instruction of all children in Iran while he was seeking to register his church. The charges were later changed to forsaking Islam, or apostasy, at the age of 19.

A court in Rasht convicted Nadarkhani of apostasy last year, sentencing him to death by hanging although no such crime exists under the country’s penal code. The case then went to the Supreme Court on appeal in July 2011 which ruled that even if apostasy was not a codified “crime” in the penal code, it was still punishable under Sharia. The Supreme Court, however, ordered the lower court in Gilan to reexamine whether Nadarkhani was a believer in Islam when he adopted Christianity.

Pastor Nadarkhani, the leader of a network of house churches in Iran, was told by authorities on Sept. 25 that he had three opportunities to renounce his faith in Christianity and embrace Islam to have the charges removed. But he refused to do so for the third time on Sept. 28.

According to the pastor’s daring lawyer, Mohammadali Dadkhah, the case is still in progress.

WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah said the Iranian official have shown no regard for the truth or the merit of the case which is against true Islamic ethos. “By killing ‘apostates’ you can only produce hypocrites, as the citizens will need to put up a show that they believe in Islam even if their hearts do not agree. This is against the teachings of Islam,” he added.

Contrary to the official’s claim that the pastor is facing charges of rape, extortion and security related offences, an Iranian Supreme Court brief from 2010 – translated from its original Farsi by the Confederation of Iranian Students in Washington and available with the American Center for Law and Justice – mentions apostasy as the only charge made him.

WEA-RLC urges Iran’s highest authorities to ensure that Pastor Nadarkhani is discharged of all false charges. It also urges the authorities to show that there is truth in their claim that, “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion.” The country will harm its reputation even further by not following the call of its conscience. 

With millions of Christians, and others, praying for the release of the pastor, we trust that sanity will prevail.