Published: 13:15 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 30 September 2011
Iranian pastor facing imminent execution after refusing to recant his faith
Country/Region: Iran, Middle East and North Africa
An Iranian pastor, who was sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam last year, could be executed any day after he repeatedly refused to recant his faith in court this week.
The father of two was asked on three separate occasions to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the charge of apostasy and lifting of the death sentence, but he refused each time. The court’s final verdict is expected within a week. It is feared that he could become the first person to be executed for apostasy in Iran since Hossein Soodmand in 1990.
Pastor Nadarkhani’s plight has attracted international attention and political intervention at the highest level.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday (28 September):
I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith. This demonstrates the Iranian regime’s continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom. I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.
The court in Rasht was asked by the Supreme Court to re-examine the key issue of whether or not Pastor Nadarkhani had been a practising Muslim after the age of accountability, 15, and before he converted aged 19. He contends that he has never been a Muslim by choice, conviction, belief or consistent practice, so he should not therefore be regarded as an apostate.
In a session earlier this week, the court agreed that Pastor Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam as an adult but nevertheless upheld the charge of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. He was born to Muslim parents and is thus considered a Muslim in Islamic tradition.
Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 for objecting to the teaching of Islam to Christian children in schools. He was initially charged with protesting, but the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims.
Pastor Nadarkhani was found guilty of apostasy in September 2010, and a written confirmation of the death sentence was received on 13 November. Apostasy is not a crime under Iran’s penal code, but the system does make provision for judges to draw on fatwas and Islamic sources where national law is silent. Islamic law states that an adult male apostate should be given the death sentence. The verdict was based on fatwas by key Iranian religious leaders including the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.
At an appeal in June 2011, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the death penalty unless Pastor Nadarkhani renounced his faith. The case was then referred back to the court in Rasht with local judges given the power to decide what will happen to him.
The pastor’s supporters are emphasizing the illegality of the ruling against him under Iran’s penal code and constitution as well as international covenants to which the country is a signatory that guarantee freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion. They are calling on the international community to continue to pressurise Iran to spare Pastor Nadarkhani’s life.