|Photo of Youcef Nadarkhani|
|Photo of Nadarkhani with one of his sons|
Youcef Nadarkhani (born 1977) is an Iranian Christian pastor who was sentenced to death (but later acquitted) in Tehran as being a Christian having been born into Islam. Initial reports, including a 2010 brief from the Iranian Supreme court, stated that the sentence on Nadarkhani (first name also spelled Yousef, Youssef, or Yousof; last name also spelled Nadar-Khani or Nadar Khani) was based on the crime of apostasy, renouncing his Islamic faith. Government officials later claimed that the sentence was instead based on alleged violent crimes, specifically rape and extortion; however, no formal charges or evidence of violent crimes have been presented in court. According to Amnesty International and Nadarkhani's legal team, the Iranian government had offered leniency if he were to recant his Christianity. His lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah stated that an appeals court upheld his sentence after he refused to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam In early September 2012, Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy, but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims, though he was immediately released as having served prison time. However, he was taken back into custody on Christmas Day 2012 and then released shortly afterwards on January 7, 2013.
Apostasy Law in Iran
After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iranian Christians were recognized as a "protected religious minority" and according to the Constitution of Iran possess freedom of religion and even have a Member of Parliament (MP) representing them. However, evangelism and missionary work and converting Muslims to Christianity is prohibited by law, and Christians in practice may also face some discrimination as well in their lives.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is officially no crime known as apostasy in the penal code (although there was a law about it prior to 1994). The last known execution for this crime was in 1990. However, despite there being no official civil law of apostasy, judges may still convict a defendant of that crime if they rule based on religious fatwas. As a result, a few people have been convicted of it, but there have been no known executions. In 2011 a man was executed in Ahvaz, Iran for blasphemy and "spreading corruption on the earth" (Mofsed-Fel-Arz) when he claimed that he was God, and attracting a "following" around himself. According to the fatwas, for a man, if convicted, the punishment is death by hanging-for a woman, it is life imprisonment. The apostate should be given three chances to repent and convert back to Islam.
Nadarkhani is from Rasht, Gilan Province, in Iran. He originally had no known religion, however Nadarkhani said that he converted to Christianity as a child having never practised Islam. However, court documents claim that he converted at age 19. Prior to his arrest, he was the pastor of a network of Christian house churches. He is a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran. He is married to Fatemeh Pasandideh, and they have two sons, ages 9 and 7.
In 2009, Nadarkhani discovered a recent change in Iranian educational policy that required all students, including his children, to take a course in Qur'an study in school. After he heard about this change, he went to the school and protested, based on the fact that the Iranian constitution guarantees freedom to practice religion. His protest was reported to the police, who arrested him and brought him before a court on October 12, 2009, on charges of protesting.
On June 18, 2010 Nadarkhani's wife was arrested and charged with apostasy. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, and placed in prison in Lakan, Iran, which is just south of their hometown of Rasht. She was released in October 2010., after serving four months in prison.
The charges against Nadarkhani were later changed to apostasy and evangelism, the same charges he was initially arrested under in 2006. On September 21–22, 2010, Nadarkhani appeared before the 11th Chamber of The Assize Court of the province of Gilan and received a death sentence for the charge of apostasy. Nadarkhani's lawyer, Nasser Sarbaz, claims there were numerous procedural errors during Nadarkhani's trial.
After conviction, Nadarkhani was transferred to a prison for political prisoners, and denied all access to his family and attorney. The delivery of Nadarkhani's written verdict was delayed by Iran's security officials. Iranian officials seemed reluctant to execute Nadarkhani, and kept delaying his sentence. They also gave him several opportunities to convert back to Islam.
On November 13, 2010, the verdict for the trial of September 21–22 was finally delivered in writing, indicating that Nadarkhani would be executed by hanging. The sentence was appealed and the 3rd Chamber of the Supreme Court in Qom upheld the conviction and sentence of death. In July 2011 Mr. Nadarkhani's lawyer, Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent Iranian human rights defender, received the written verdict of the Supreme Court of Iran, dated 12 June 2011, which upholds the death sentence. The Supreme Court decision asked the court in Rasht, which issued the original death sentence, to re-examine some procedural flaws in the case, but ultimately gave the local judges the power to decide whether to release, execute or retry Mr. Nadarkhani in October. The recent written verdict included a provision for annulment should Mr. Nadarkhani recant his faith. As of 2011[update] he was being kept in a security prison in Lakan.
Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy at retrial on 8 September 2012. During proceedings, the court found him guilty of evangelizing Muslims and sentenced him to three years in prison, time he has already served. He was released and is now back with his family.
A number of Western organizations and governments have issued statements in support of the release of Nadarkhani.
On October 29, 2010, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom asked President Barack Obama to press Iran for Nadarkhani's release. If the execution is carried out, Nadarkhani would be the first Christian executed for religious reasons in Iran in over 20 years.
On September 28, 2011 the Commission on International Religious Freedom stated:
"Despite the finding that Mr. Nadarkhani did not convert to Christianity as an adult, the court continues to demand that he recant his faith or otherwise be executed. The most recent court proceedings are not only a sham, but are contrary to Iranian law and international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party."
President Barack Obama's September 30, 2011 statement read:
"The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations."
“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.”
Amnesty International designated Nadarkhani a prisoner of conscience and urged his immediate release, stating, "It is shocking that the Iranian authorities would even consider killing a man simply for exercising his right to choose a religion other than Islam."
Statements of the Iranian government
On October 1, 2011 the Iran state media reported that Nadarkhani is facing the death sentence for rape and extortion, not for apostasy and refusing to renounce his religion, as his lawyer, human rights groups and Western news media have reported. They also reported that they had not signed his execution order. Nadarkhani's lawyer said that he believed that Nadarkhani would not be executed.
“Youcef Nadarkhani has security crimes and he had set up a house of corruption. ... Nobody is executed in our country for choosing a religion, but he has committed security crimes.”
“If he is under trial in another court on other charges, I am not aware. But we only defended him against the death sentence in the case of his charge of apostasy. The charge the court staff announced that I defended during several different court sessions was apostasy and no other charge.”
In a ruling from the Iranian Supreme Court, translated into English by the Confederation of Iranian Students, Nadarkhani was sentenced to execution by hanging for, “turning his back on Islam” and “converting Muslims to Christianity.” The ruling also alleges that he also participated in Christian worship by holding home church services and baptising himself and others, effectively breaking Islamic Law. There is no mention in the ruling of rape or extortion allegations.
In early September 2012, Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy, sparing him the death penalty. However, he was found guilty of evangelism, but released for having already served his time.
- Freedom of religion in Iran
- Human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Christianity in Iran
- Saeed Abedini - Iranian American Christian pastor imprisoned in Iran for alleged evangelizing
- List of former Muslims
- Banks, Adelle M. (2011-09-28). "Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's potential execution rallies U.S. Christians". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2011-10-05. "Religious freedom advocates rallied Wednesday (Sept. 28) around an Iranian pastor who was facing execution because he had refused to recant his Christian faith in the overwhelmingly Muslim country."
- Hafezi, Parisa (2011-10-03). "Iran court likely to revoke pastor's death sentence-lawyer". Los Angeles Times. Reuters. Archived from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2011-10-05. "Yousof Nadarkhani, 33, was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran's northern city of Rasht in 2009. An appeals court upheld his sentence last year after he refused to reconvert to Islam, his lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Reuters."
- Merica, Dan (2011-10-01). "Iranian pastor faces death for rape, not apostasy - report". CNN. Archived from the original on 2011-10-27. "In a translated Iranian Supreme Court brief from 2010, however, the charge of apostasy is the only charge leveled against Nadarkhani."
- "Iranian Christian pastor accused of 'apostasy' must be released". Amnesty International. 30 September 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- "Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani imprisoned again". http://au.christiantoday.com. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
- "Iran hangs man who claimed to be God: report". Agence France-Presse. 31 January 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- "William Hague urges Iran to spare life of pastor facing execution". The Telegraph. 2011-09-29. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-05. "Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran, was arrested in 2009 for apostasy and he was sentenced to death last year."
- Fournier, Keith (2011-10-03). "Iran: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Sentenced to Death for Refusing to Convert to Islam". Catholic Online. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-05. "Today we bring to the attention of the global readership of Catholic Online the plight of a Protestant Christian pastor in Iran, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. This brave Christian man was sentenced to death because he refuses to convert to Islam."
- Simpson, John (2011-09-29). "Britain, U.S. Call on Iran to Halt Execution of Christian Pastor". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-05. "The U.K. and the U.S. urged Iran to overturn a death sentence imposed on an Iranian Christian pastor for apostasy."
- "Full Story of Youcef Nadarkhani". International Christian Concern. 2010-11-01. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "Because Youcef's faith remained strong, they decided to arrest his wife in order to place more pressure on him. On June 18th, 2010 Fatemah Pasindedih was arrested, charged with apostasy and placed in prison in Lakan."
- Cole, Ethan (2010-10-31). "Obama Admin Urged to Defend Iranian Pastor Facing Execution". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "The Obama administration should press Iran to release Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been jailed for over one year, expressed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a statement Friday."
- "Execution of Iranian Pastor Temporarily Delayed". Christian Broadcasting Network. 2010-10-26. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "Nadarkhani is being kept in a security prison in Lakan, Iran, which is just south of his hometown of Rasht. His wife was also sentenced to life in prison."
- "USCIRF Urges Obama Administration to Demand Release of Pastor Facing Execution in Iran for Apostasy". United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2010-10-29. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2010-11-05. "USCIRF urged the Obama Administration to press for his immediate and unconditional release."
- Sterling, Joe (2010-12-07). "In Iran, a Christian pastor faces death sentence". CNN. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "On September 22, Iran's 11th Circuit Criminal Court of Appeals for the Gilan Province upheld the death sentence and conviction of Nadarkhani for apostasy."
- "Temporary Delay To Execution of Brother Youcef Nadarkhani". Present Truth Ministries. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
- "Iranian Pastor Faces Death for Thought Crime". Christian Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
- "Temporary Delay of Execution to Brother Youcef Nadarkhani". FarsiNet.com. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
- "Death Sentence Delivered". Present Truth Ministries. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
- "Iran: Written Verdict Confirms Nadarkhani Death Sentence". Christian Solidarity Worldwide. 2011-07-13. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "Since the original verdict was based on fatwas by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the 'father' of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran, the Supreme Court may have been reluctant to overturn the verdict for fear of inviting controversy, despite the fact that there is no crime of apostasy or death sentence for it in the Iranian penal code."
- "Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani acquitted of apostasy and released from prison". The Right Scoop. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- "Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani released, acquitted of apostasy". Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- "Death Sentence on Christian Leader Yousef Nadarkhani". PBS. 2011-09-30. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-28. "I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant."
- Jay Carney (29 September 2011). "Statement by the Press Secretary on Conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
- Merica, Dan (2011-09-29). "U.S. condemns Iranian pastor's conviction". CNN. Retrieved 2011-10-03. "After four days of an appeals trial for apostasy, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs, the commission said."
- "Foreign Secretary calls on Iran to overturn Iranian Church leader's death sentence". Foreign Secretary and Commonwealth Office. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
- "After Trial on Apostasy Charge, Christian Pastor Nadarkhani Accused of Rape and Extortion". International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-10-08.
- Kwon, Lillian (8 September 2012). "Iran Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Acquitted of Apostasy, Released From Jail". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- "Nadarkhani Freed Again, But Other Iranian Christians Languish Behind Bars". CNS News. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- Official reports