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Iranian pastor faces death penalty

July 24, 2011 No Comment

by James Morgan

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

The Supreme Court of Iran recently upheld a death sentence for a Christian pastor. The problems began for Yousef Nadarkhani pastor of the Church of Iran when authorities arrested him in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 while he attempted to register his church with the government. Before then, he had questioned the Muslim monopoly on religious education in Iran. In September 2010, he was found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an agency dedicated to working for religious freedom obtained a copy of the Supreme Court’s verdict following Pastor Nadarkhani’s appeal of the sentence. 

The original verdict in Pastor Nadarkhani’s case is based on ‘fatwas’— decrees issued against apostasy (anti-Islamic teaching) by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential Muslim leader in Iran. Religious apostasy is not listed as a crime under Iranian law, but the Islamic Republic’s constitution allows for criminal court rulings to be made based on fatwas instead.

Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer who was representing Pastor Nadarkhani faced legal persecution resulting from the case. Courts sentenced him to nine years in jail and imposed a ten-year ban from practicing law or teaching in a university for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime.”  He is appealing the sentence.

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling, which has simply handed Pastor Nadarkhani’s case back to the court that found him guilty in the first place,” said Andrew Johnson, Advocacy Director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, adding that Iran is violating the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, a document that it has signed. The US State Department has also condemned the sentence, which also allows Pastor Nadarkhani to avoid death if he agrees to renounce his Christian faith.  “He is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran,” State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told shortwave radio service, Voice of America.

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