A week ago, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was a relatively unknown Christian facing execution for his faith under Iran’s interpretation of Sharia law. Few people knew his name, and almost no one was aware of the fate that awaited him. His only hope was and still is an immense amount of international pressure on the Iranian government to prevent the first apostate execution in Iran in over twenty years.
Earlier this week, the 11th branch of Iran’s Gilan Provincial Court, on remand from the Iranian Supreme Court, determined that Pastor Nadarkhani has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ or die. Nadarkhani was to be given three opportunities to recant his face, and if he refused face execution.
Working with Nadarkhani’s Muslim attorney, contacts on the ground in Iran, American media, and congressional leaders, the ACLJ began aggressively working to highlight his situation and call for a public outcry and international pressure from the U.S. on Nadarkhani’s behalf.
The Washington Post was the first mainstream media outlet to cover the story, right here on this blog. Soon after, Fox News and CNN ran their own stories, at which point Nadarkhani’s story spread like wildfire on social media.
As Pastor Firouz Sadegh-Khandjani, a Member of the Council of Elders for the Church of Iran and a close personal friend of Nadarkhani, told me on my radio show, Iran’s “Constitution makes it clear . . . that Christians have the right to accept their faith,” but Christian face “a religious apartheid because the tendency is not to respect the rights of minorities, minorities are not considered citizens, it is worse than apartheid because in apartheid it was written that we have apartheid, but in Iran it is not written . . . but legally we are in apartheid.”
As this news began to spread, Congressional leaders began to react.
Speaker of the the House John Boehner released a statement calling for Nadarkhani’s “full and unconditional release,” noting that Iran’s actions “are distressing for people of every country and creed.” Representative James Lankford (OK-5) joined that call, noting, “Faith cannot be detained or controlled by a dictatorial regime, … a regime that falsely believes that they determine the rights they will permit for their own people.” Representative Randy Forbes (VA-4), Chairman of the Prayer Caucus, reiterated, “We in America who enjoy the fundamental human right of religious freedom must demand Nadarkhani’s full and unconditional release.” Representative Trent Franks (AZ-2) issued a strong statement: “I appeal to whatever semblance of humanity may remain in the hearts of Iran’s leaders and urge the Obama administration to make it clear, through every channel possible, that such grievous human rights abuses will not stand.”
The White House has also released a statement calling “upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.”
This level of pressure on Iran is a major victory.
And it is having an effect.Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s attorney in Iran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told the ALCJ that at the end of the final hearing on Wednesday, three of the five judges appeared to be leaning toward annulling Pastor Youcef’s sentence.
However, the death sentence still stands, and recognizing that the judges’ decision is not final and may be swayed by outside pressure before delivering the final verdict, Pastor Youcef’s attorney urges the international community to continue to cry out for his client’s unconditional release until he is released from prison.
That is exactly what we are doing, calling on Secretary of State Clinton and other high-profile American leaders to take direct action to save this pastor’s life.
Please continue to pray for Nadarkhani, his family, and his attorney.
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