Iranian Officials Pressure Imprisoned Pastor to Return to Islam

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

pastor youcef in iranTEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)-- Iranian officials are trying to convince an imprisoned pastor to return to Islam while he awaits word from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on whether he should be executed for converting to Christianity.

Recently these officials presented a book of Islamic literature to Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani at his cell in Rasht, informing him that they will return to discuss it.

The book, titled "Message of the Two Eras," refers to both the New and Old Testaments; it claims Christianity is a fabrication, thus Islam is superior to it.

Attorney Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice, questioned whether this latest move showed the ayatollah's willingness to give Nadarkhani another chance, or was merely another way for Khamenei to convict Nadarkhani for leaving Islam, a crime pusinable by death.

Iran's judiciary believes a death sentence may have far-reaching political repercussions from the international community, which continues to petition for the pastor's release, so it sent a letter to Khamenei, Iran's highest authority on shar'ia, asking him to make the final decision; should he decline to give his opinion, the lower court will be responsible for making a final judgment.

Under shar'ia, apostacy is punishable by death: Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states that "Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death."

Barrans said that to confuse the media, the Iranian government denied that the charge against Nadarkhani was apostasy and instead alleged that he was being held for rape and extortion.

According to Barrans, Nadarkhani was arrested October 2009; he was tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht, after which he was told of an impending death-by-hanging sentence. His lawyers appealed this decision in December and the case was sent to Iran's Supreme Court. In June, the court upheld the lower court's decision provided it could be proven that Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim from the age of 15 up to 19 when he converted to Christianity.

Although the lower court ruled that Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam as an adult, it still upheld the apostasy charge because he was born into a Muslim family; the court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant his beliefs and return to Islam, but Nadarkhani has repeatedly refused.

All religious minorities in Iran have faced persecution and political marginalization throughout the regime's reign, but the government always reserves its severest penalties for those who leave Islam.