Friday, December 10, 2010
In Iran, a Christian pastor faces death sentence
Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old member of the Church of Iran ministry and pastor of an approximately 400-person congregation in the northern city of Rasht, faces death, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
In the southern city of Shiraz, another Christian pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, 35, is facing a possible indictment for apostasy.
"This is part of a greater trend of persecution against Christians," said Firouz Sadegh-Khanjani, brother of Behrouz and member of the Church of Iran's Executive Council.
Christians are feeling the heat in other parts of the Muslim world as well.
In Iraq, Christians have been attacked and many have fled their homes for other lands. In Pakistan, a Christian woman faces a death sentence for blasphemy for allegedly defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed.
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.
Apostasy is the "act of renouncing one's religion," the human rights group said Tuesday, but it "is not a crime under Iran's Islamic Penal Code. Instead, the presiding judge in Nadarkhani's case rested his opinion on texts by Iranian religious scholars."
"It is the low point of any judicial system to sentence a person to death outside of its own legal framework," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the campaign.
"To execute someone based on the religion they choose to practice or not practice is the ultimate form of religious discrimination and disregard for the freedom of conscience and belief."
The judgment said Nadarkhani was born to Muslim parents but converted to Christianity when he was age 19 and it said that "during interrogations Nadarkhani made a written confession admitting he left Islam for Christianity."
He said during his trial that his "interrogators pressured him into making the statement," the campaign said.
"I am not an apostate. ... Prior to 19 years old I did not accept any religion," Nadarkhani said at trial, according to the campaign.
Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the "draconian language in the verdict makes it very clear that the Iranian authorities mean business. He could be executed at any time. And for what? For being a Christian."
"We call upon the Obama administration and the international community to use every means available, to raise this issue and demand the unconditional release of Mr. Nadarkhani."
USCIRF officials said the last known execution of a Christian in Iran for apostasy was 20 years ago this month.
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