A Christian pastor could be executed in Iran if he refuses to give up his faith. Rev. Yousef Nadarkhani has twice refused to recant his Christian faith during two court hearings held in Rasht, Gilan Province, September 25- 26. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, recanting will again be demanded at sessions scheduled for September 27-28, and that if he continues to refuse, he will be executed thereafter. He belongs to the Church of Iran, an evangelical Christian denomination.
Pastor Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of abandoning Islam in September 2010 by the court of appeals in Rasht. The verdict was delivered verbally in court, while written confirmation of the death sentence was received nearly two months later. At the appeal in June 2011, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence, but asked the court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity. The written verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision included provision for annulment of the death sentence if he recanted his faith.
Following investigation, the court in Rasht has ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has made it clear to the court that the repeated demand for recanting is against both Iranian law and the constitution. The court replied that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand.
The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. However, using a loophole in Iran’s constitution, the judges in Rasht based their original verdict on fatwas - religious edicts - pronounced by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the 'father' of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and of Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, was arrested in his home city of Rasht on October 13, 2009 while attempting to register his church. His arrest is believed to have been due to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran. He was initially charged with protesting; however the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims. His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah - a prominent Iranian human rights defender - is also facing legal difficulties. On July 3, a court in Tehran sentenced Attorney Dadkhah to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practicing law or teaching at any university for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime". He is currently appealing the sentence.
Stuart Windsor of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in statement, “CSW is calling on key members of the international community to urgently raise Pastor Nadarkhani’s case with the Iranian authorities. His life depends on it, and we have grave concerns regarding due process in this case, and also in that of his lawyer, Mr Dadkhah. The verdict handed down to Pastor Nadarkhani is in violation of the international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPPR), which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion. It also violates article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”