On the eve of celebrating our independence and freedom in the United States, a man in Iran faces death for being a Christian. In the last few days, the Supreme Court in Qom, Iran upheld the death sentence of Youcef Nadarkhani for converting from Islam to Christianity. His death sentence could be carried out any day.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran denomination was arrested in his home city of Rasht on October 13, 2009, while attempting to register his church. He was arrested because he allegedly questioned the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.
Pastor Nadarkhani merely spoke out against an Iranian policy that requires all children, regardless of their faith, to be taught Islamic teachings. When he pointed out that the Iranian constitution grants freedom of religion, local police demanded that he appear before a political tribunal where he was arrested and imprisoned – his charge, unlawful apostasy and evangelism to Muslims.
An Iranian court convicted him and sentenced him to death in 2010. On June 28, 2011, the Supreme Court in the Shia holy city of Qom, Iran upheld the apostasy conviction and death sentence. We know the Iranian regime often enacts death sentences without advance notice to prisoners’ families.
Time is of the essence, and the ACLJ is doing everything within its power to help save Pastor Nadarkhani. We have sent letters to the U.S. State Department, the Iranian Mission at the United Nations, members of the U.S. Congress, and other foreign leaders demanding Pastor Nadarkhani’s release.
Our letter states:
Imposing the death penalty for changing religion blatantly violates one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has pledged to uphold. Moreover, this fundamental right is enshrined in Iran’s Constitution. Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution provides that the “investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”
As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence here in America, we must remember the blessings of our freedoms and fight for those who are suffering under religious persecution – and even death – around the world. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We will continue working to secure the release of Pastor Nadarkhani and all those like him who are facing the ultimate penalty for their faith in brutal dictatorships around the world.
UPDATE 7.4.2011: Supreme Court remands case to the local trial court – death sentence still pending if Youcef doesn’t recant his faith.
UPDATE 7.7.2011: The U.S. State Department has issued a release urging Iran to respect Pastor Nadarkhani's fundamental right to freedom of religion and to vacate the court order requiring him to recant his Christian faith or face execution. You can read the entire statement here.