Iranian pastor confirmed alive: false execution rumors detrimental to his freedom

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WASHINGTON — Numerous false reports are circulating about the death of the Iranian pastor who was convicted and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

The American Center for Law and Justice has received confirmation that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is alive in Iran as of today, March 26, 2012.

New false reports about Pastor Youcef's execution continue to surface — whether these reports originate from a misinformation campaign initiated by the Iranian regime or just uninformed sources is unknown.

According to ACLJ, many of these false reports feature an image of an Iranian man approximately the same age as Nadarkhani, standing bound in front of a gallows surrounded by two armed masked Iranian guards.

"The image is not of Nadarkhani and has been circulating since at least July 2011," said Anna Sekulow in an ACLJ blog.

"The ACLJ believes these demonstratively false rumors about Pastor Youcef's death are detrimental to his freedom and potential release. It also causes unnecessary anxiety for the family members awaiting his release and the millions of people who are praying for him around the world," she continued.

Nadarkhani was sentenced to death in 2010 for converting from Islam to Christianity in a case that began in 2009. His plight has gained international attention.

The execution order has been issued and that sources are saying that the execution order for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may be carried out any day now.

Adding to the pressure, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.



March 13, 2012
Iran admits charges against pastor involve his faith
Christian Examiner staff report
TEHRAN  — Iranian authorities for the first time admit that the case against Pastor Youcef Nakarkhani involves his Christian faith and religious activity.

During a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Mar. 12, Iran said Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death, was found guilty of three charges: building a church in his home without government permission, preaching to minors without parental consent and offending Islam, according to a report in the International Business Times.

There are a growing number of countries speaking out against religious persecution in Iran including Canada, Sweden, France, United States, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany.

The European Union stated that it has "followed closely" the "case of Pastor Nadarkhani, tried for apostasy," and expressed concern for the condition of human rights in Iran, including the imprisonment of attorneys who represent human rights cases.

In July 2011, Iran had sentenced Nadarkhani's attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, to nine years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the ruling Islamic system.

"Although we are encouraged by these recent developments, we hope that nations with influence in Iran will continue reach out to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and request that he immediately and unconditionally release Pastor Youcef," said Tiffany Barrans, the International Legal Director at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). "Iran's continued disregard for its international human rights obligations reflects negatively on all of Islam, a reason for which other Muslim nations should encourage Iran to release Pastor Youcef.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has also called for an immediate release of Nadarkhani.





Congress calls for Iranian pastor's release
February 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — Adding pressure to Iranian officials, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who could be executed any day for his Christian faith.

The resolution passed March 1 by an official vote of 417-1, although the one representative who voted "no" — Lois Capps of California — said she did so by mistake, and she corrected her vote minutes later and said in a floor speech she supports Nadarkhani.

Nadarkhani — whose first name also has been spelled Youcef — was sentenced to death in 2010 for converting from Islam to Christianity in a case that began in 2009. His plight has gained international attention. Several sources close to Nadarkhani say the death order already may have been issued.

The resolution "condemns the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its continued violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for the Government of Iran to exonerate and immediately release Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religion."

The resolution further states that "numerous Government of Iran officials have attempted to coerce Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith and accept Islam in exchange for his freedom." A U.N. official, the resolution says, reported that Iran secretly executed 146 people in 2011 and more than 300 people in 2010.

The White House and State Department also have released official statements urging Iran to free Nadarkhani.

Following is the full text of the resolution:

"Condemning the Government of Iran for its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing of Youcef Nadarkhani on the charge of apostasy.

"Whereas the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights uphold that every individual shall have `the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion', which includes the `freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance';

"Whereas Iran is a member of the United Nations and signatory to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

"Whereas articles 23 through 27 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran provide for freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as the freedom to practice one's religion;

"Whereas Iran is a religiously diverse society and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran reports that religious minorities including Nematullahi Sufi Muslims, Sunnis, Baha'is, and Christians face human rights violations in Iran;

"Whereas in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding religious services, detaining worshippers and religious leaders, and harassing and threatening minority religious members;

"Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights reports that Iranian intelligence officials are known to threaten Christian converts with arrest and apostasy charges if they do not return to Islam;

"Whereas in October 2009, Youcef Nadarkhani, a minority Christian, protested an Iranian law that would impose Islam on his Christian children;

"Whereas in September 2010, an Iranian court accused Youcef Nadarkhani of abandoning the Islamic faith of his ancestors, and condemned him to death for apostasy;

"Whereas the Iranian court sentenced Youcef Nadarkhani to death by hanging according to Article 167 of the Iranian Constitution, Article 8 from the book of Tahrir Alvasilah Fi Sofat Alghazi Va Maianaseb Lah, and Fatwas of Shia theologians;

"Whereas, on December 5, 2010, Youcef Nadarkhani appealed his conviction and sentence to the Supreme Revolutionary Court in Qom, Iran, and the court held that if it could be proven that he was a practicing Muslim in adulthood, his death sentence should be carried out unless he recants his Christian faith and adopts Islam;

"Whereas, on September 25, 2011, through September 28, 2011, the State Court of Gilan Section 11 held hearings to determine if Youcef Nadarkhani was a practicing Muslim in adulthood, and held that he had abandoned the faith of his ancestors and must be sentenced to death if he does not recant his faith;

"Whereas on numerous occasions the judiciary of Iran offered to commute Youcef Nadarkhani's sentence if he would recant his faith;

"Whereas numerous Government of Iran officials have attempted to coerce Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith and accept Islam in exchange for his freedom;

"Whereas upon the date of the passing of this resolution, Youcef Nadarkhani has refused to recant his faith;

"Whereas the Government of Iran continues to indefinitely imprison Youcef Nadarkhani for choosing to practice Christianity; and

"Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights reported that, at the time of his report, in 2011, Iran had secretly executed 146 people, and in 2010, Iran secretly executed more than 300 people: Now, therefore, be it

"Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

"(1) condemns the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its continued violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for the Government of Iran to exonerate and immediately release Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religion;

"(2) recognizes that freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and a fundamental freedom of every individual, regardless of race, sex, country, creed, or nationality, and should never be arbitrarily abridged by any government; and

"(3) recognizes that governments have a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens and to pursue justice for all."



White House demands release of Iranian pastor facing execution
February 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — The White House increased the international pressure on Iran demanding the release of the Christian pastor sentenced to death, as several reports seemed to confirm his execution order had been issued.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, was sentenced to death in 2010 for converting from Islam to Christian in a case that began in 2009.

The statement from the Obama administration is its strongest yet from the White House in Nadarkhani's case.

"The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution — a fundamental and universal human right," the statement read. "The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government's total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence, release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."

The statement also urged other nations to join in pressuring Iran, saying, "The United States renews its calls for people of conscience and governments around the world to reach out to Iranian authorities and demand Pastor Nadarkhani's immediate release."

The American Center for Law and Justice was the first organization Tuesday to warn of Nadarkhani's possible death order, quoting its sources as saying an order "may have been issued." On Wednesday a FoxNews.com report went a step further, removing any question and saying the order had been handed down. On Thursday, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow told Baptist Press that the secrecy of the Iranian regime prevents anything definite from being known, although ACLJ sources in Iran say the execution order has been issued.

Many times, Sekulow said, something is not known as definitive "until you get the body." In Iran, "they don't have to notify the family. They don't have to notify anybody" about a pending execution.

"I haven't given up hope," Sekulow said. "There are countries that can speak out — not just our own government and not just Europe. The regime needs to know that we know exactly what they're doing, and they're not going to get away doing it without us telling the world."

The Iranian system is different from those in the West, Sekulow said, because international pressure can make a difference and cause Iranian officials to change course.

"We're at that point again," Sekulow said.

A positive outcome to the current crisis, Sekulow said, would be for an Iranian news service to report that Nadarkhani is alive and is not near execution.

"I would love to be told that we're all liars," Sekulow said. "That's fine. Because if he's still alive — that's our goal."

Sekulow added, "It's not over."

ACLJ has launched a "Tweet for Youcef" program to spread the news about the pastor around the world. So far, more than 420,000 Twitter accounts have been reached, touching 162 countries.

The case began in 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals. In 2011 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim — a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.

In September, he was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. His case then was referred to the ayatollah. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of his court exchanges.

"Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" Nadarkhani asked.

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge reportedly replied.

"I cannot," the pastor responded.

Info: "Tweet for Youcef" http://aclj.org/Nadarkhani


— BP



Iranian authorities may be set to execute pastor
February 21, 2012
TEHRAN — Iranian officials may have issued an order to execute a pastor at the center of a high-profile case that has drawn international attention, according to a legal group that has followed the case.

Christians worldwide are being asked to pray.

The  American Center for Law and Justice warned Tuesday that its sources are saying that the execution order for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may be carried out any day now. Nadarkhani was convicted and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

"Pastor Youcef's situation — an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian — has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year," the ACLJ said on its website. "It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order."

The ACLJ statement said, "We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued."

A second group that monitors religious liberty, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), released a statement saying the situation is dire. Nadarkhani's lawyer, CSW reported, "is trying to confirm reports that the Iranian authorities have decided to execute the pastor."

"There are grave concerns that the death sentence could be carried out at any time without prior notification and that the authorities will merely announce it later, a practice that is not uncommon in Iran," CSW said.

"There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month," said ACLJ.

Western leaders have spoken out on behalf of Nadarkhani. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in December calling for Nadarkhani and several other prisoners of conscience worldwide to be released "immediately and unconditionally."

The case dates back to 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals. Earlier this year the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim — a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.

In late September 2011, he was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. His case then was referred to the ayatollah. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of his court exchanges.

"Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" Nadarkhani asked.

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge reportedly replied.

"I cannot," the pastor responded.

Meanwhile several members of Congress have introduced a resolution which condemns the Iranian government for its "persecution, imprisonment and sentencing" of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.


ACTION: Concerned citizens can voice your opinion to U. S. Congressional members by going to https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and type in your zip code. Then contact Congress members either by phone or by email.


— BP news was used in this report.


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