WASHINGTON --(According to
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the head of a network of Christian house
churches in Iran,
could be executed as soon as midnight Wednesday in Tehran for refusing
to recant his religious beliefs and convert to Islam, said the chair of a
commission that monitors religious freedom around the world.
statement by the United States Commission on International Religious
Freedom, an independent advisory group appointed by the president and
Congress, "expressed deep concern" for the man's fate.
After four days of an appeals
trial for apostasy, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs.
Leonard Leo, chair of the commission, said the pastor "is being asked to
recant a faith he has always had. Once again, the Iranian regime has
demonstrated that it practices hypocritical barbarian practices."
Writing in the National Review Online, religious freedom activist Nina
Shea said Western voices made a difference in the hikers' case and could
influence the pastor's fate: "Those of us in the free world should
press our members of Congress to speak up."
However according to (
) ; there is another side to the story . "
Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will be put to death for several
charges of rape and extortion, charges that differ greatly from his
original sentence of apostasy, Iran's semi-official Fars News agency
Gholomali Rezvani, the deputy governor of Gilan
province, where Nadarkhani was tried and convicted, accused Western
media of twisting the real story, referring to him as a "rapist." A
previous report from the news agency claimed he had committed several
violent crimes, including repeated rape and extortion."
White House Condemns Possible Execution of Iranian Pastor
The White House condemned the conviction and
possible death sentence for an Iranian pastor who refuses to renounce
his Christian faith on Thursday, saying the execution would further
demonstrate Iranian authorities "utter disregard" for religious freedom.
"Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more
than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all
people," the statement released by the White House read. "That the
Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith
violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds
of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations. A
decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the
Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and
highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its
citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor
Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human
rights, including freedom of religion."
Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told The
Associated Press on Thursday that his client has appeared before the
appeals court over the past four days and expects a ruling by the end of
next week. Dadkhah said he believes there's a "95 percent chance" of
acquittal for Nadarkhani.
Dadkhah said neither Iranian law nor clerics
have ever stipulated the death penalty as punishment for converting
from Islam to Christianity.
The judges in the case, according to the
American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), demanded that Nadarkhani
recant his Christian faith before submission of evidence. Though the
judgment runs against current Iranian and international laws and is not
codified in Iranian penal code, the judge stated that the court must
uphold the decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court in Qom.
When asked to repent, Nadarkhani stated:
"Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I
had before my faith in Christ?"
"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge replied, according to the American Center for Law & Justice.
"I cannot," Nadarkhani said.
An unnamed source close to Nadarkhani's
attorney told the American Center for Law and Justice that a judge has
agreed to overturn Nadarkhani's death sentence, but the report could not
be independently confirmed.
Even if the sentence is overturned, Jordan
Sekulow, the executive director of the ACLJ, said the message is that it
would be unlikely that Nadarkhani would be set free.
Nadarkhani is the latest Christian cleric to
be imprisoned in Iran for his religious beliefs. According to Elam
Ministries, a United Kingdom-based organization that serves Christian
churches in Iran, there was a significant increase in the number of
Christians arrested solely for practicing their faith between June 2010
and January 2011. A total of 202 arrests occurred during that six-month
period, including 33 people who remained in prison as of January, Elam
An Assyrian evangelical pastor, Rev. Wilson
Issavi, was imprisoned for 54 days for allegedly converting Muslims
prior to his release in March 2010, Elam officials told FoxNews.com.
Nadarkhani, a pastor in the 400-member
Church of Iran, has been held in that country's Gilan Province since
October 2009, after he protested to local education authorities that his
son was forced to read from the Koran at school. His wife, Fatemeh
Pasandideh, was also arrested in June 2010 in an apparent attempt to
pressure him to renounce his faith. She was released in October 2010,
according to Amnesty International.
Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for
apostasy last September based on religious writings by Iranian clerics,
including Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of
Iran, despite the fact that there is no offense of "apostasy" in the
nation's penal code, Amnesty International reports.
In June, the Supreme Court of Iran ruled
that a lower court should re-examine procedural flaws in the case,
giving local judges the power to decide whether to release, execute or
retry Nadarkhani. The verdict, according to Amnesty International,
includes a provision for the sentence to be overturned should Nadarkhani
renounce his faith.
Elise Auerbach, an Iranian analyst for
Amnesty International USA, told FoxNews.com that an execution for
apostasy has not been carried out in Iran since 1990. Nadarkhani's
sentence is a "clear violation of international law," she said.
"The key is to keep up the pressure and to
publicize the story because it obviously outrages most people," Auerbach
said. "It's part of the pattern of persecution based on religion in
Kiri Kankhwende, a spokeswoman for Christian
Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization that specializes in
religious freedom, told FoxNews.com that Nadarkhani was asked for the
fourth time to renounce his faith during a hearing early Wednesday and
he denied that request.
"We're waiting to hear the final outcome," she told FoxNews.com. "We're still waiting to hear what they've decided."
Kankhwende said Nadarkhani could be executed Wednesday or Thursday.
"Iran is unpredictable," she said. "We can't say when it might happen. It's a very real threat, but we can't say when exactly."
Officials at the U.S. State Department declined to comment when reached on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner said Nadarkhani's
case is "distressing for people of every country and creed," according
to a statement released on Wednesday.
"While Iran's government claims to promote
tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their
faith," the statement read. "This goes beyond the law to an issue of
fundamental respect for human dignity. I urge Iran's leaders to abandon
this dark path, spare [Nadarkhani's] life, and grant him a full and
Father Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest in
the Archdiocese of New York and an analyst for Fox News Channel, said
Nadarkhani's case is "unmistakable evidence" that Iran is executing
Christians simply because they refuse to become Muslims.
Morris continued: "Will President Obama, and
the free world, allow the United Nations to continue in its cowardly
silence on this matter?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 32, who maintains he has
never been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must
recant his faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran's Gilan
Provincial Court has ruled. Iran's Supreme Court had ordered the trial
court to determine whether Nadarkhani had been a Muslim prior to
converting to Christianity
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