Daily Mail Reporter
September 29, 2011
A man who converted from Islam to Christianity is facing the death penalty in Iran for refusing to return to his former religion.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, of the Church of Iran, faces hanging after refusing a court order to renounce his Christian faith.
If the execution goes ahead it would be the first Christian to be officially executed in Iran for religious reasons in 20 years.
The pastor had defied a request by the Gilan provincial court, in the Iranian city of Rasht, to repent ahead of today’s hearing.
Despite assurances that Nadarkhani’s case will be sent back to Iran’s Supreme Court, his supporters fear the provincial court will use a law, temporarily ratified by parliament, to execute him this week.
The married father-of-two was detained in his home city of Rasht in October 2009, while attempting to register his church.
Supporters of the pastor say he was arrested after questioning the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.
TRIBUTE TO COURAGE
Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged Iran to spare Nadarkhani’s life by overturning his sentence.
Mr Hague said: ‘I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith.
‘This demonstrates the Iranian regime’s continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom.
‘I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani, who has no case to answer, and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.’
Church officials say there may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in the country and that Iran’s leadership is concerned about the spread of Christianity.
Nadarkhani was initially charged with protesting, but charges against him were later changed to ‘apostasy’ – or abandoning Islam – and ‘evangelising Muslims’, which both carry the death sentence.
He was later tried and found guilty of apostasy in September 2010, and sentenced to death by the court in the city of Rasht.
In June this year the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death sentence but asked the lower court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity.
Nadarkhani told the court during his first hearing on Sunday that he had no intention of returning to Islam.
He said: ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?’
However, the court said that because Nadarkhani has Islamic ancestry, he therefore must ‘recant his faith in Jesus Christ’.
When the court ordered him to ‘return to the religion of your ancestors – Islam’, Nadarkhani replied: ‘I can not.’
Jason DeMars, of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, said: ‘This law dictates what should be done with apostates, depending on what type of apostasy has been committed.
‘My sources tell me that the court has been told to give the “apostate” three days to recant, then execute him.’
Mr DeMar added that section 6.225 of Iran’s controversial legislation says that if a person’s parents were Muslims at the time they were trying to conceive a child, and that converts to another religion and renounces Islam, he or she would be a national apostate.
He said: ‘The death sentence is the penalty for national apostate, but after the verdict is pronounced, he or she will be commanded to repent of what he or she has done.
‘If he refuses to repent, he will be killed.’
The written verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision also included a provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani recanted his faith.
Although the court found that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult, the court said he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.