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IRD Urges Prayer & Action for Iranian Pastor Facing Death SentenceJuly 22, 2011Contact: Jeff Walton 202-682-4131; 202-413-5639 cell
“For decades, Iranian Christians have lost their human rights, freedom, and lives. Along with the Baha’i and with believers in democracy and freedom, they are arrested, imprisoned, and murdered in spite of Iran’s claims of ‘tolerance.’”- Faith McDonnell, IRD Religious Liberty Program Director
Washington, DC—IRD’s Religious Liberty Program urges churches to pray for Yousef Nadarkhani, 34, imprisoned since October 2009. Nadarkhani, a pastor of a 400 plus congregation of the evangelical Church of Iran, was arrested for objecting to a requirement that Christian children, including his 8- and 9- year old sons, study the Koran in school. School officials reported him after he told them that the Iranian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religious practice.
Nadarkhani was charged with apostasy as Islamic law dictates that the child of Muslim parents is a Muslim. He was born to a Muslim family. Nadarkhani was also charged with evangelization of Muslims and “denying Islamic values.” Prison authorities used various methods, including medications, to try to convert him back to Islam.
In September 2010, the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal tried Nadarkhani in the northwestern city of Rasht. He was sentenced to death by hanging on Nov. 13 for apostasy. In early July, the court agreed to remit the death sentence only if Nadarkhani recanted.
The U.S. State Department denounced the decision in a July 6 statement noting: “while Iran’s leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, they continue to detain, imprison, harass, and abuse those who simply wish to worship the faith of their choosing.” Department officials called on the Iranian government to “respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens and uphold its international commitments to protect them.” The last known execution in Iran of a Christian for apostasy was in December 1990, of the Rev. Hussein Soodmand, an Assemblies of God pastor from Mashdad, northeastern Iran. However many other Christian leaders have also been murdered.
IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith McDonnell commented:
“For decades, Iranian Christians have lost their human rights, freedom, and lives. Along with the Baha’i and with believers in democracy and freedom, they are arrested, imprisoned, and murdered in spite of Iran’s claims of ‘tolerance.’ Now a pastor whose ministry provides Iran with over 400 exemplary citizens is to be punished by death for refusing to renounce the faith in Christ that informs and gives meaning to his life.”
“Apostasy is the act of renouncing one’s religion, but Yousef Nadarkhani had no religion before he became a Christian. Furthermore, apostasy is not even a crime under Iran’s Islamic penal code. But the same Iranian constitution that offers “protected” status to Christians includes a clause demanding that if there is no basis for a judicial ruling in the law, judges must turn to Shariah in any situation. And all the major schools of Shariah are unanimous that the penalty for apostasy is death.”
“We urge American churches to pray for this courageous and faithful brother and to urge our government to continue to pressure Iran on his behalf, demanding his unconditional release.”
The Institute on Religion & Democracy works to reaffirm the church's biblical and historical teachings, strengthen and reform its role in public life, protect religious freedom, and renew democracy at home and abroad.
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