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Death Sentence for Iranian Pastor Convicted of Apostasy Upheld

July 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Iran

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for a church pastor convicted of apostasy last year – unless he recants his faith.

After confusing reports about the outcome of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s appeal, a written verdict from the court has now confirmed a verbal notification, made earlier this month, that it was unsuccessful. Dated 12 June, the document was not made available to Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer for around a month. The death penalty will be annulled if the father of two recants his faith.

The decision was strongly condemned by the US State Department, which said:
We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his faith or face the death penalty for apostasy, a charge based on his religious beliefs. If carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy inIran since 1990.

Pastor Nadarkhani (33) was arrested in his home city of Rasht, northern Iran, 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. His wife, Fatemeh Passandideh, was also later arrested, in June 2010, and sentenced to life in prison. Supporters say that this was an attempt to pressurise Pastor Nadarkhani to renounce his faith, but he remained steadfast. Fatemeh was released on appeal in October after four months in prison.

Pastor Nadarkhani was found guilty of apostasy in September 2010; a written confirmation of the death sentence was received on 13 November.  Apostasy – or renouncing Islam – 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. Pastor Nadarkhani, who was born to Muslim parents and is thus considered a Muslim in Islamic tradition, became a Christian aged 19.

The case was tried by the court in Rasht and has now been referred back there. The Supreme Court has asked the Rasht court to re-examine some procedural flaws in the case but has ultimately given local judges the power to decide Pastor Nadarkhani’s fate in October. The outcome seems likely to rest on whether or not he will recant his faith.

His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent defender of human rights in Iran, is involved in a legal battle of his own. He is appealing a nine-year prison sentence and ten-year ban on practising law or teaching at university for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime”.

Pastor Nadarkhani was previously imprisoned, in December 2006, on charges of apostasy and evangelism; he was released two weeks later.

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