Update: Youcef Nadarkhani and Iranian Christian prisoners
We have just received word from our contacts on the ground in Iran of an extremely dangerous turn of events for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. There is an increased likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute Pastor Youcef for his faith. – ACLJ
Youcef has continually refused to give into the regime’s demands that he renounce his Christian faith, the likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute him increases by the day.
“The world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death because of his faith,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
“This one case is not just about one execution. We have been able to expose the system instead of just letting one man disappear, like so many other Christians have in the past.”
Go to the bottom to see the timeline of Youcef’s jailing provided by Christian Post
The sentence came only days after U.S. congressmen supported a resolution sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Joseph Pitts denouncing the apostasy charge and calling for Nadarkani’s immediate release. The White House and the U.S. State Department also released statements on Thursday condemning Iran’s religious freedom abuses.
“This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values,” the White House said. “The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens.”
Below is a list of the latest updates (to February 2012) on Christian prisoners in Iran compiled by Mohabat News indicating their current place of detention, their status and other details. The names included in the list are only those whose reports have already been published by Mohabat News.
From the Christian Post - Youcef timeline
According to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, Nadarkhani turned to Christianity at the age of 19, becoming a member of the Only Jesus Church in Rasht. Nadarkhani claims he was never a practicing Muslim.
For the past 10 years, Nadarkhani has pastored for a network of house churches. Before his arrest in 2009, he was the pastor of a 400-person congregation in the Gilan province.
Nadarkhani was originally arrested in Dec. 2006 for being a pastor. He was accused of apostasy (leaving Islam for Christianity) and attempting to evangelize Muslims. He was released two weeks later, according to Present Truth Ministries.
In Oct. 2009, Nadarkhani learned that his two Christian sons, Daniel and Yoel (currently 9 and 7 years old, respectively) would be taught about Islam in their local schools, as approved by the government. Nadarkhani went to his children’s schools to protest, and was arrested.
On Oct. 12, 2009, a political tribunal in Rasht charged him for protesting, and he was imprisoned in a jail in Lakan, a city seven miles south of his hometown of Rasht.
Nadarkhani’s charges were later changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. Nadarkhani repeatedly refused to recant his Christian faith.
On June 18, 2010, Fatema Pasindedih, Nadarkhani’s wife, was arrested and tried for apostasy, for which she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, according to Present Truth Ministries. The sentence was later appealed and overturned.
Nadarkhani was tried Sept. 21-22, 2010 by the First Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death for apostasy on Nov. 13, according to Prisoner Alert, a ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs.
The young pastor appealed his case on Dec. 5, 2010, to Iran’s Supreme Court.
On June 28, 2011, the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Qom decided to uphold Nadarkhani’s guilty verdict for apostasy, sentencing him to be executed. However, the Supreme Court ordered the lower Gilan province court to re-examine Nadarkhani’s case and determine if he was a practicing Muslim from age 15-19, according to Present Truth Ministries.
The lower court re-examined the case from Sept. 25-28 in 2011. During these three days, Nadarkhani was given the opportunity to recant three times, reportedly being told his life would be spared if he denounced Christianity. Nadarkhani repeatedly refused to recant his Christian faith.
Due to increased international pressure, the local court decided to pass the case to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review. Khamenei has ultimate authority in Iran’s judicial affairs.
Although Khamenei was originally supposed to announce the final verdict by Dec. 2011, in mid-December Present Truth Ministries reported that Nadarkhani’s verdict would not be announced for another four months. Other sources claimed that the verdict might not come for another year.
On Feb. 22, 2012 Nadarkhani’s fate took a turn for the worse. According to the American Center for Law and Justice’s sources in Iran, the Iranian courts may have issued an execution order for Nadarkhani.