2011 Martyr News

Sep 30, 2011, 8:16 PM |

International Business Times

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is facing the death penalty, again
refused to convert to Islam to save his life.

Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for the crime of apostasy because he
allegedly abandoned Islam for Christianity. As a pastor, Iranian clerics
believe that Nadarkhani was preaching in order to convert Muslims. 

Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous
chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final
refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he
could be put to death as soon as Friday.

The case has slowly garnered international attention, and there are a number
of Christian rights groups advocating for his release. 

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner also has spoken out against Iran. "While
Iran's government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many
of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue
of fundamental respect for human dignity. I urge Iran's leaders to abandon
this dark path, spare [Nadarkhani's] life, and grant him a full and
unconditional release," said Boehner.

There were rumors on Wednesday night that Nadarkhani's execution sentence
was to be waived after the final trial, but contradicting reports indicate
that the news was incorrect.

"We've had some reports that there has been a verbal announcement from the
court in Iran that the sentence is annulled but we urge caution," said
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious group campaigning for
Nadarkhani's release.

"It's been known that verbal announcements have been directly contradicted
by later written statements. We are still calling for international pressure
to be kept up."

The American Center for Law and Justice said in a message titled "Troubling
News" that the rumors were spread by the Iranian secret service in an
attempt to get the media to stop reporting the story. ACLJ said Nadarkhani's
lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah called the center Wednesday to say the death
sentence hasn't been overturned.

Even if the sentence were commuted, Nadarkhani could still face life in
prison. And even if he were released, there would still be danger.

"In Iran about 18 years ago, they had released a pastor, but then came and
assassinated him and his bishop later. We cannot stop the pressure," Pastor
Firouz Sadegh-Khandjani, a Member of the Council of Elders for the Church of
Iran, told the ACLJ.

Between June 2010 and January 2011, more than 200 people in Iran were
arrested for their religious beliefs, according to Elam Ministries, a
<http://www.ibtimes.com/topics/detail/346/united-kingdom/> United
Kingdom-based church with ties to Iran.

In August, a pastor named Haghnejad was arrested for the third time,
according to Christian Solidarity. Police also confiscated 6,500 bibles,
which Iran's social issues committee deemed were being used to deceive

While no one has been hanged for the crime of apostasy in Iran for more than
20 years, the country has the second highest execution rate of any nation in
the world. So far in 2011, there have been about 400 executions, a quarter
of which occurred in September.