Iranian Pastor Nadarkhani rejects release for endorsing Mohammed

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

By Michael Ireland  — Originally published in ASSIST News Service

RASHT, IRAN — Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani recently refused an offer to secure his own release by agreeing to state that the Muslim prophet Mohammed was a messenger sent by God.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says lawyers for Pastor Nadarkhani were unexpectedly summoned to his home city of Rasht on December 30, 2011.

In a media update, CSW says: “During ensuing discussions, local authorities indicated they would release the pastor if he agreed to make the statement regarding the Prophet Mohammed. However, Pastor Nadarkhani has refused to do so, and remains in prison awaiting a final decision on his case.”

Pastor Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran denomination was initially arrested in Rasht in 2009.

In September 2010 he was tried and found guilty of apostasy, and sentenced to death. After further legal wrangling in 2011 during which the pastor thrice refused to recant his faith to save his own life, his case was eventually referred to Iran’s Supreme Leader, as international pressure mounted on his behalf.

Towards the end of 2011, CSW received unconfirmed reports indicating that the case may have been passed on to the head of the Iranian judiciary, and that execution may have been delayed for up to a year to allow time to convince the pastor to renounce his faith.

CSW explains the terms of the recent offer from the Rasht officials have been described by local sources as “amounting to an indirect recantation of faith.”

CSW sources also point out that the request violates article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.

Jason DeMars of , says: “The Iranian regime is continuing to use pressure tactics to get Youcef to convert to Islam. This is their ultimate goal in this process.

“We ask that everyone continues to pray and to reach out to Iranian officials requesting that a verdict be issued and that Youcef be released quickly.

“According to Iranian law a verdict needs to be issued within one week of the completion of the trial. It has now been three months and even one month past what was promised in mid December.”

Pastor Nadarkhani’s case was recently highlighted by British parliamentarians on January 11, during a 90-minute debate on human rights in Iran.

CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: “Just as the initial conviction of Pastor Nadarkhani is illegal under Iranian law, the recent offer made by the authorities in Rasht is a violation of the Iranian constitution, and of international covenants to which Iran is a signatory that guarantee freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion.

“CSW continues to call for the unconditional release of Pastor Nadarkhani, and of all those imprisoned in Iran purely on account of their faith. It is vital that the international community maintains pressure on the Iranian regime until the human rights situation positively and irrevocably improves for the better.”

British MPs Highlight Nadarkhani Case and Iran’s “Appalling” Religious Freedom Violations

Meanwhile, in a 90-minute debate on human rights in Iran, the UK’s Members of Parliament yesterday highlighted the worrying situation of Pastor Nadarkhani and discussed the Iranian regime’s systematic denial of the Iranian people’s right to freedom of religion or belief.

CSW said the severe persecution faced by Christians, Baha’is, Jews and other religious minorities in Iran was highlighted as a key area of concern by various MPs, within the wider discussion on the extensive and broad-ranging human rights violations committed by the Iranian government.

Stewart Jackson MP drew heavily on Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) research to describe the problems faced by Christians, including the worrying uncertainty surrounding the Nadarkhani case, and the plight of other detainees such as Farshid Fathi and Pastor Benham Irani.

Jackson said: “Torture is used to pressure individuals to make confessions and to provide information on others. As I mentioned, exorbitant bail postings secure the release of individuals, along with illegal documents that religious detainees are forced to sign. Such documents demand an end to participation in Christian activities, the renunciation of faith, and compliance with further questioning when summoned. Laptops and mobile phones are often confiscated during raids on private Christian homes and are used to obtain information on the activities and identities of other Christians.”

Louise Ellman MP, who tabled the debate, began the proceedings by raising the plight of the severely-targeted Baha’i religious minority.

She said: “The repression takes a number of forms in an ongoing and systematic persecution. It means arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and the denial of access to higher education and areas of employment. The homes and businesses of Baha’is have been subject to arson attacks, cemeteries have been destroyed, and children have been harassed.”

According to the CSW report, MPs pressed the British Government to make representations to Iran on the issue of the Islamic Penal Bill, which is due to be passed by the Iranian parliament later this year and which may still include a clause stipulating the death penalty for male apostates, despite Iranian claims to the contrary.

Replying to the debate, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt MP said: “We will press at the [UN Human Rights] Council in March, as we do at every Council, for Iran to deal with the record against it that colleagues have spoken about. There is no doubt that the issues raised here will continue to be raised by colleagues, but they may rest assured that their concerns are echoed by the Government. We will continue to stand up for the rights of those who are oppressed in Iran.”

CSW was commended for its work by a number of Parliamentarians, and a reference was made to CSW’s engagement with a debate on human rights in North Korea, which also took place yesterday prior to the Iran debate.

After the debate, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW welcomes the remarks made by Members of Parliament and the response of the government during yesterday’s debate on the human rights situation in Iran, and is encouraged by the robust coverage of the widespread abuses of freedom of religion or belief in that nation.

“Given the appalling violations that religious minorities face in Iran, it is of utmost importance that the international community both stands and acts in solidarity with them, something that was well articulated in yesterday’s debate.

“CSW is committed to continuing to raise religious freedom issues in Iran with key policy shapers and decision makers until the human rights situation there is positively and irrevocably changed.”

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