US Support for Yousef Nadarkhani Grows as Iran Denies Its Own Apostasy Charges

In a move more reminiscent of a badly regulated nursery than of a foreign power, Iranian officials have now denied that Yousef Nadarkhani is to be executed on charges of apostasy.

Instead, the young Iranian Christian will be executed on charges of rape, treason, and Zionism. Maybe.

Or maybe not; a statement on the Iranian Embassy site in the U.K. contradicts numerous reports—including official Iranian court documents—when it claims that no verdict has been issued:

The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in London renounces the published news regarding the death penalty for Mr. Yousof Nadarkhani and announces that the Court of Appeal in the Islamic Republic of Iran has not issued any verdict on his case. Accordingly, the allegations to the issue of the death penalty for the above mentioned, are unsubstantiated.

Iran’s wish to do away with Pastor Nadarkhani while maintaining an increasingly absurd semblance of legality has not received nearly the attention it deserves, especially when compared with some of the better known court cases that have crowded our news feeds. Mark Tapscott writes,

Unlike Troy Davis, for whom the evidence of his innocence was at best questionable, Nadarkhani is unequivocally innocent of wrongdoing. So why the seeming celebrity indifference to his situation and to the worldwide Muslim persecution of Christians?

Unfortunately, celebrity outrage reflects the multiculturalist mindset of our era, which places all minorities on a pedestal – unless that minority is a devout Christian. Celebrities flocked to support American Muslims’ right to religious freedom in the Ground Zero mosque controversy (a right which the mosque protesters were not even contesting). They decried the “state-sanctioned murder” of the black Troy Davis. But they can’t be bothered to take even a stand on Twitter for Pastor Nadarkhani, whose murder at the hands of an oppressive state is imminent.

Fortunately, as the expected execution is continually delayed, more and more people are beginning to take notice. Condemnations from the White House, numerous members of Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, advocacy groups like Amnesty International, and a few mainstream news outlets have made Iranian officials nervous enough to deny the findings of their own court system. Unfortunately, that may not be enough to save Nadarkhani’s life.

Yousef Nadarkhani’s case is particularly important because he is just one of the many Iranians suffering under increased religious persecution. No one has been executed for apostasy for Iran since 1990, but if Nadarkhani dies, many others will no doubt follow. Let’s hope that future martyrs will be enabled to keep the faith, as Nadarkhani has—and let’s hope the world will start to pay more attention.


Abdolreza Haghnejad and Yousef Nadarkhani: Christians in Iran

Yousef Nadarkhani still looks set to become the first Christian executed for apostasy in Iran since 1990. Unfortunately, he may be merely the first in a new wave of Iranian persecutions–yet the media has hardly noticed.

Abdolreza ‘Matthias’ Haghnejad, a pastor in the Evangelical Church of Iran, was arrested August 17 while on a pastoral visit. It is not known where he is being held, or what charges he may face, and he does not have access to a lawyer.

Haghnejad and others were arrested last April, but acquitted in mid May when Mohammed-Ali Dadkhah, a human rights lawyer, took on their case. Despite this high-profile acquittal, other Iranian Christians have also been arrested in recent days:

Last month, a Christian man and woman were detained in Iran. The man was released but the woman, Leila Mohammadi, was arrested and is believed to be behind bars in Evin prison.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said: “It is vital that the Republic of Iran ensures due process and ends this practice of incarcerating persons simply on the basis of their faith as this is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Those who, like the pastor, have been arrested must either be charged and tried in a timely manner or released, and all detainees must be allowed contact with their families and lawyers.”

Stories like this are on the rise in Iran, a fact that has largely been ignored in the media despite having been addressed at the U.S. State Department and by Canadian officials.

Arrests are not the only setbacks Iranian Christians have had to endure:

In August a consignment of 6,500 Bibles was confiscated as it was being transported between the cities of Zanjan and Ahbar in the north-western province of Zanjan. In a comment on the seizure, Dr Majid Abhari, advisor to the social issues committee of the Iranian parliament, declared that Christian missionaries were attempting to deceive people, especially the youth, with an expensive propaganda campaign. He also indicated his belief that all religions are strengthening their power to confront Islam.

This rhetoric is the latest in a stream of condemnations of Christians from members of the Iranian regime, who have attempted to demonise Christians as western-backed conspirators, ‘parasites’ and ‘like the Taliban’.

Christians are not the only religious minorities to be targeted in Iran; Sufis and those in the Baha’i community have also seen an uptick in persecution.

Iran’s treatment of its own legally-protected minorities may prove a harbinger of things to come in its relations with the rest of the world. That’s especially relevant given the nation’s penchant for nuclear weapons development. As Walter Russell Mead observed,

Interestingly, like many stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, the stories of Iranian Christians and Pastor Nadarkhani have received widespread attention in the US religious press — and are covered much more episodically and lightly if at all by mainstream outlets.  The contrast not only undermines public credibility in the mainstream press as readers take this as evidence of an anti-Christian or anti-western PC bias in the press; it blinds those who rely on mainstream reports to the actual state of US public opinion.

For many Americans, evidence of how Iran treats its Christian minority is an indicator of the kind of uses to which it would put nuclear weapons.

This should concern even those who are uninterested in what happens to Iran’s Christians. Iran persecutes its own people–why should should it treat other nations any better, especially if it gains access to nuclear weapons?

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Dying For Religious Freedom: Yousef Nadarkhani

The Iranian government has not executed anyone on charges of apostasy since 1990, when Assemblies of God Pastor Hossein Soodmand was sentenced and then hanged by a Sharia court. Twenty-one years later, another Christian pastor may be the next victim of the courts. Western nations are beginning to take note, but the media is not—and, thanks in part to this ignorance, it may be too late to help the next victim of Iran’s continued flouting of international law.

Yousef Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 when he publically opposed an illegal Iranian practice that required children of all faiths to receive Islamic instruction. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran signed in 1976, both supports Nadarkhani’s objections and forbids just the sort of persecution he has suffered.   Article 18 states,

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Of course, Iran has a long history of similar international infractions, and Nadarkhani will hardly be the last man targeted. Many have noted a rise in persecution not only of Christians, but also of Iran’s Baha’i and Suffi communities. Some believe this may indicate a rift within Iran’s leadership:

Some sources told Compass the comments of Islamic leaders may indicate a power struggle between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This bodes ill for Christians and minorities in general, they said.

“When there is conflict in the government and division, then all the minorities will have a hard time,” said another Christian Iranian who requested anonymity.

Yousef Nadarkhani is still alive, but he may not be so for long; rumors last week of an annulment of his sentence have since been refuted by Iranian Christians on the ground.

Last week both Canada and the U.S. responded to Nadarkhani’s plight with a call for Iran to “uphold its international commitments” to its citizens. Some believe the dramatic uptick in public persecution may backfire on the Iranian leadership:

“The Iranian public basically doesn’t trust the government anymore,” Ghaffari said, “and they don’t trust the Muslim clergy anymore, because they have seen a lot of double standards and hypocrisy.”

Converts in smaller communities still risk persecution from their own families, but tolerance is growing in urban areas and among the younger generation. “In fact,” said Dibaj, “in places like Tehran and more educated communities, if you say, ‘I have become a Christian,’ they will respect you because of your courage and your independent thinking.”

If anything, government persecution has made Christianity much more attractive, said Yegh-nazar. “When government officials are on television telling people not to read the Scriptures, that generates more interest in the Scriptures.”

Let’s hope this is true. Martyrs are powerful figures, as the Arab Spring has so poignantly illustrated. If Yousef Nadarkhani is executed, a sufficiently outraged public might have a chance to spark such a “backfire” and help ensure that his martyrdom was not in vain.

Unfortunately, as Mollie Hemingway points out this morning at the Get Religion blog, the public has largely ignored this story, despite its having been addressed by the State Department:

The Christian and human rights press is all over it. But the only mainstream treatment I saw was from Agence France Press.

Here’s their headline:

Iran ‘annuls death term’ for Christian pastor

So if a court told someone who was facing certain death that he only faced certain death if he refused to recant his faith, would you say that’s an “annulment” of the death sentence? I wouldn’t.

Things don’t look good for Pastor Nadarkhani.

image via Anglicans Ablaze