Pastor faces execution for the ‘crime’ of apostasy

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Iranian pastor Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, having refused to renounce his Christian faith, faces execution as early as Wednesday or Thurday after his sentence was upheld by an Iranian court.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, was offered a third and final chance to recant his faith in Jesus Christ to avoid execution by hanging, but he replied: “I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.”

Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for apostasy in September 2010.  The crime is based on religious writings by Iranian clerics, including Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the fact that there is no offence of “apostasy” in the nation’s penal code, Amnesty International reports.

Though the judgment runs against current Iranian and international laws and is not codified in Iranian penal code, the judge stated that the court must uphold the decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court in Qom.  The panel of five judges will decide within a week whether to confirm his execution for apostasy, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, his lawyer, told The Times newspaper.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who maintains he has never been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran’s Gilan Provincial Court ruled.

When asked to repent, Nadarkhani stated: “Repent means to return.  What should I return to?  To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?”

The judge replied: “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.”

“I cannot,” Nadarkhani said.

Nadarkhani, a pastor in the 400-member Church of Iran, has been held in that country’s Gilan Province since October 2009 after he protested to local education authorities that his son was forced to read from the Koran at school.  His wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, was also arrested in June 2010 in an apparent attempt to pressure him to renounce his faith, but she was released in October 2010, according to Amnesty International.

Elise Auerbach, an Iranian analyst for Amnesty International USA, said that an execution for apostasy has not been carried out in Iran since 1990.  Nadarkhani’s sentence is a “clear violation of international law,” she said.

“The key is to keep up the pressure and to publicise the story because it obviously outrages most people,” Auerbach said. “It’s part of the pattern of persecution based on religion in Iran.”