20 October 2011
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani life is in the hands of Iran's ultimate political and religious authority, Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The pastor was arrested in 2009 while he was trying to register his church and sentenced to death in 2010 after being found guilty of apostasy. Pastor Nadarkhani trial went through its fourth and final stage the end of September and he is still waiting for the final written verdict. It has been reported by some that a verbal annulment of the charges and death sentence had been given, however Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Chief Executive Officer, Mervyn Thomas said "CSW urges caution over the recent reports of verbal annulment of the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani. Continued international vigilance and pressure is vital; the life of this man is still very much in the balance."
Apostasy (abandoning Islam) is a crime in Iran, despite Iran signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion and the right to change one's religion. The prosecution claimed that Pastor Nadarkhani was raised a Muslim and so his conversion to Christianity merits death. The appeals courts showed that even though Nadarkhani was not a practising Muslim before he became a Christian, he had still abandoned the faith of his ancestors. The court in Tehran announced that Pastor Nadarkhani might save his life by publicly renouncing Christianity. During his retrial which took place between September 25-28 Pastor Nadarkhani was brought before the court three times, each with the purpose to ask him to renounce Christianity. He refused each time, saying "repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" The judges replied, "to the religious of your ancestors, Islam." Youcef replied, "I cannot."
The campaign in support of Nadarkhani has been huge, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has had over 57 000 recorded support actions to embassies, over 15 000 people join their Facebook group and thousands of phone calls made to Iranian embassies. Government officials including American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Baroness Catherine Ashton the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs have spoken out on behalf of Pastor Nadarkhani. William Hague pointed out that this case again shows that the "Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom."
Middle East Concern reported on 11 October, the day after the expected verdict of the trial, that Pastor Nadarkhani's case was being referred to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On the same day the Supreme Court said that it would be willing to consider a further appeal. Both of these actions are unusual developments in Iran's legal system, and are likely to further delay the issuing of a written verdict from the most recent hearing.
As Yousef Nadarkhani waits for the formal written verdict to come through, CSW continues to call for international action to prevent his execution which could happen anytime.
To email the Iranian embassies around the world click here
Middle East Concern is encouraging people to pray that:
″ Yousef's death sentence will be revoked and his conviction overturned
″ Yousef, his wife and their two sons will know the comfort and hope of Jesus and will be reunited soon.
″ Christians throughout Iran will not be intimidated but will know the Lord's enabling and guidance