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Iran court convicts Christian pastor convert to death

Iran court convicts Christian pastor  convert to death

By  Published February 22, 2012;

  • Yusuf Naderkhani and family

    (An undated photograph circulated by religious rights organizations  shows Youcef Nadarkhani and his family.)

A trial court in Iran  has issued its final verdict, ordering a Christian pastor to be put to death for  leaving Islam  and converting to Christianity,  according to sources close to the pastor and his legal team.

Supporters fear Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old  father of two who was arrested over two years ago on charges of apostasy, may  now be executed at any time without prior warning, as death sentences in Iran  may be carried out immediately or dragged out for years.

It is unclear whether Nadarkhani can appeal the  execution order.

“The world needs to stand up and say that a man  cannot be put to death because of his faith,” said Jordan  Sekulow, executive director of The American Center for Law and Justice  (ACLJ).

“This one case is not just about one execution. We  have been able to expose the system instead of just letting one man disappear,  like so many other Christians have in the past.”

It is also feared that Nadarkhani will be executed in retaliation as Iran endures crippling sanctions and international pressure in response to its nuclear agenda and rogue rhetoric. The number of executions in Iran has increased significantly in the last month.

“This is defiance,” Sekulow said. “They want to say  they will carry out what they say they will do.”

The order to execute Nadarkhani came only days after  lawmakers in Congress supported a resolution sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep.  Joseph Pitts denouncing the apostasy charge and calling for his immediate  release.

“Iran has become more isolated because of their  drive for nuclear weapons, and the fundamentalist government has stepped up  persecution of religious minorities to deflect criticism,” Pitts, a Republican,  told “The persecuted are their own citizens, whose only crime is  practicing their faith.”

The ACLJ has been a major driving force in keeping  Nadarkhani’s case in the international spotlight. Many other advocacy groups and  human rights organizations also have mounted global campaigns and petitions  against the Iranian government, and experts credit Nadarkhani’s international  support for keeping him alive.

The ACLJ recently launched a Twitter campaign to publicize Nadarkhani’s case, asking participants to dedicate a daily tweet to “Tweet for Youcef,” stating the number of days he has been imprisoned (currently 863) and ending the tweet with “ViaOfficialACLJ,” sending readers back to the organization’s website where they could learn more about his case.

Tweets have reached 157 countries and over 400,000  people.

Secretary of State Hillary  Clinton and 89 members of Congress, along with the European Union, France, Great  Britain, Mexico  and Germany,  have condemned Iran for arresting Nadarkhani and have called for his quick  release.

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and was  tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in  Rasht. He was then given verbal notification of an impending death-by-hanging  sentence.

His lawyers appealed the decision under the premise  that Nadarkhani was never a Muslim at the age of majority, and the case was sent  to Iran’s Supreme  Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision of execution, provided it  could be proven that he had been a practicing Muslim from the age of adulthood,  15 in Islamic law, to age 19, which was when he converted.

The lower court then ruled that Nadarkhani had not  practiced Islam during his adult life but still upheld the apostasy charge  because he was born into a Muslim family.

The court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to  recant, as the law requires a man to be given three chances to recant his  beliefs and return to Islam.

His first option was to convert back to Islam. When  he refused, he was asked to declare Muhammad a prophet, and still he  declined.

Iran’s judiciary had delayed in issuing a final  verdict, fearing the decision would have far-reaching political  implications.

Sources say Nadarkhani has been advised by family  members, lawyers and members of his church to remain silent throughout his  ordeal, out of fear that authorities may use his statements against him, a  strategy commonly employed by the regime.



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