Published: 10:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 22 December 2011
Pastor Nadarkhani remains in jail as final verdict is delayed
Country/Region: Iran, Middle East and North Africa
Recent reports in the Christian media have drawn attention to the highly unorthodox views held by Youcef Nadarkhani, the pastor on death row in Iran.
Barnabas Aid is aware that Pastor Nadarkhani’s faith is not orthodox Christianity, and in our own reports we have tried to say only that he is a pastor (not a Christian), that he has left Islam and that he is under the threat of a death sentence. We do not endorse his unorthodox theology in any way.
However, we do maintain that there should be freedom of conscience for people of every religion, that all should be free to choose or change their religion (including to convert from Islam), and that no one should suffer for their faith in the way that Nadarkhani has done. We believe it is right to tell his story in order to highlight these crucial issues, which affect many converts to orthodox Christianity in Iran and elsewhere, as well as others who have chosen to leave Islam.
The final decision in the case of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death last year for apostasy from Islam, has been delayed.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
The court that is reconsidering the verdict referred the case to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, in October. A final decision was expected by mid-December, but as the deadline loomed, the head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, intervened and ordered a delay.
Sources close to the case have suggested that it could be as long as a year before a verdict is issued. Pastor Nadarkhani, a married father of two, remains behind bars.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been heavily involved in the case, said that the delay appears to be an attempt to buy the Supreme Leader more time to make a decision that could set a precedent.
Other commentators have suggested that the Iranian authorities are hoping that the international community and human rights groups, who have been campaigning for Nadarkhani’s release, will forget about the case.
Iran has come under mounting international pressure over the matter. Following the signing of a petition by 200,000 Americans, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Iran to release “all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani”.
Officials have been apparently trying to convince the church leader to convert to Islam. It is thought that further pressure will be applied during his extended detention in an attempt to persuade him to recant his faith.
Pastor Nadarkhani was formally sentenced to death for apostasy in November 2010. At an appeal hearing in September this year, he repeatedly refused to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the charge of apostasy and lifting of the death sentence.
The case has centred on the 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.
Although the court agreed that Pastor Nadarkhani had not practised Islam as an adult, it 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.