Iran: Hague pleads for Christian pastor's life
Foreign Secretary joins the calls for Iran to spare a pastor charged with abandoning Islam
FOREIGN Secretary William Hague has joined Christian and human rights groups in calling for the Iranian authorities to spare a Christian pastor the death penalty. Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, is charged with apostasy – abandoning Islam - and will be killed if a panel of five judges cannot be persuaded to reverse the court ruling in the next week.
"I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently", said Hague. "This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, expressed "deep concern". The Christian Solidarity Worldwide organisation is leading a civil society campaign to pressure the Iranian authorities.
The case has a long and complex history. Nadarkhani, who gave Christian teaching in a 'home church', was first arrested in 2009. CSW claim he was "initially charged with protesting; however the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims".
The case hinged on whether Nadarkhani had ever been a practicing Muslim after reaching 15 - the age of maturity - as he could not otherwise have abandoned it. In September 2010, he was convicted by the court in Rasht, Gilan Province. In July, the Iranian Supreme Court declared that "the file is incomplete" and needed further investigation.
On September 25, the case returned to court in Rasht, which delivered a shock ruling that rejected the need for investigation. "Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry", CSW reported.
The court’s own transcript shows that Nadarkhani has not been convicted on the terms of the Iranian constitution, which permits freedom of worship, but rather from Sharia Law.
"His actions according to the fatwas of all Shia theologians is (sic) considered as inherent apostasy", reads the given justification.
Apostasy is not codified as any crime, let alone a capital offence, in Iran but judges have discretion to use Sharia Law in their decision-making. Executions are extremely rare in these cases, according to the Times, which claims that "Rev Hossein Soodmand (was) the last Christian to be hanged for abandoning Islam, 21 years ago".
Also in the Times, Martin Fletcher suggests that this is an over-reaction from a "paranoid regime that sees potential enemies everywhere", and is concerned with an increase in conversions to Christianity, although they comprise just 2% of Iran’s population.
Iran had the second highest use of the death penalty in 2010, according to Amnesty. Under the leadership of President Ahmedinijad it is increasingly becoming a pariah state notorious for human rights abuse. This is "just the kind of barbarism we expect from Iran", the Spectator said.
Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights activist who has himself been sentenced to nine years imprisonment, is "95 per cent" confident that his client will eventually be spared. The courts have apparently given Nadarkhani several chances to renounce his faith, which he has refused to do.
Expect diplomatic efforts to intensify as the clock ticks down for Nadarkhani. ·
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