6th July, 2012
Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who has spent nearly 1,000 days in prison on charges of apostasy, may face fresh charges in September, pertaining to crimes against national security and possibly blasphemy, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
According to CSW’s sources, judges have reportedly received instructions to try Pastor Nadarkhani on new, trumped-up charges in order to make his sentence appear more acceptable.
CSW says in a media update that it understands a date for the new trial may have been set for 8th September, 2012.
Pastor Nadarkhani is currently in prison facing the death sentence for apostasy, which was upheld following an appeal at the Supreme Court. He was arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009, soon after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he felt was unconstitutional.
CSW says Nadarkhani’s case has twice been referred to the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has yet to issue a final ruling. He has been offered freedom in exchange for renouncing his faith on at least four occasions, but has consistently refused to do so.
CSW also stated that without the intervention of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or Mr. Sadegh Larijani, the Head of the Iranian Judiciary, who have the authority to halt an execution, the authorities are obliged to carry out the Supreme Court ruling, which stated that Pastor Nadarkhani could be executed if he refused to recant.
Sunday 8th July, 2012, will mark 1,000 days since Pastor Nadarkhani was imprisoned.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said: “CSW is deeply concerned at reports that Pastor Nadarkhani may face fresh charges in September. The Iranian government is increasingly bringing charges against Christians on political grounds to mask the fact that like Pastor Nadarkhani and Pastor Fathi Malayeri, they have been arrested and imprisoned solely on account of their faith.
“We are also concerned by the lack of due process in these cases and continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Nadarkhani, Pastor Fathi Malayeri and others who are unjustly imprisoned or facing execution following flawed judicial processes. CSW urges the Iranian authorities ensure respect for the right to freedom of religion, which is guaranteed in the international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries told ANS, “We received some news that Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, requesting the pardon of brother Youcef Nadarkhani.”
The details are based on an Interfax report titled: “Iranian ayatollah promises Russian Church to solicit pardon for convicted pastor.”
The report, datelined Moscow, June 27, 2012, says “Iran will probably pardon Protestant pastor ‘Jusef’ (their spelling) Nadarkhani, sentenced to death for his recantation of Islam and coming to Christianity, Secretary General of the World Assembly for Proximity of the Islamic Schools of Thoughts Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Taskhiri told Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, in Moscow.”
The report says: “We are aware that Nadarkhani's life depends on the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is to pass the final verdict,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.
It states: “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia asked the Iranian spiritual leader in September 2011 to pardon the pastor, he said, adding the he himself had referred the same request to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It adds: “Ayatollah Taskhiri said in a reply, citing his sources, that the death sentence on the Iranian pastor had been overturned and assured Metropolitan Hilarion that after his return to Iran he would hand over the Russian Patriarch's request for the pastor's pardon to the office of the Iranian spiritual leader,” the External Church Relations Department said on its website.
The Interfax report said Taskhiri is the leader of an Iranian delegation that has arrived in Moscow to attend a meeting of the Russian-Iranian Commission for Orthodox-Islam dialogue.
The Interfax report added: “The death sentence handed down to Nadarkhani on September 22, 2010, caused a global resonance. The death sentence was condemned by the White House. Notorious American Pastor Terry Jones burnt the Koran in protest against the arrest of his Iranian colleague.”
DeMars told ANS: “Our sources in Iran have informed us that Youcef has been officially notified of a new trial for crimes against national security in September. We assume by implication that this means the charges of apostasy have been dropped since the new charges have been issued, but we have no confirmation of that.”
DeMars added: “At this point we need to keep Youcef’s case in the news. Please publicize this information. Youcef has not committed any crimes against Iran’s national security. He was the pastor of a network of house churches in Rasht and was not performing any political activities against the state. In fact, they pray for their country and its leaders.”
- MICHAEL IRELAND
Assist News Service