Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani continues to very literally fight for his life in Iranian courts. As the Blaze reported back in July, Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and charged with apostasy (the total abandonment of one’s religion) following a conversion from Islam to Christianity.
As we have already reported, Nadarkhani, now 32, made this conversion years ago when he was a teenager. While this has become the basis for the Iranian case against him, his initial arrest surrounded his public opposition to Christian schoolchildren being forced to participate in Islamic religious education. The Christian Post has more about how the pastor first came to the attention of authorities:
The case began in October 2009 when Nadarkhani protested at the local school of his two sons. The government had recently passed a law stating that Islam must be imposed on children in local school, and even on Christian children.
Nadarkhani publicly protested at the school, stating the law was unconstitutional because it did not allow the free practice of religion. His protest caught the attention of the police and government.
The details surrounding the legal handling of the case are complicated. According to some accounts, there was a glimmer of hope earlier this summer when Iran's Supreme Court reportedly offered a recant or die option. In this instance, the government would avoid executing Nadarkhani if he “repented."
But the court also allegedly sent the ruling back to the pastor’s hometown court. Jordan Sekulow provides more information in his Washington Post op-ed:
Iran’s supreme court had previously ruled that the trial court must determine if Youcef had been a Muslim before converting to Christianity.
However, the judges, acting like terrorists with a hostage, demanded that he recant his faith in Christ before even taking evidence. The judges stated that even though the judgment they have made is against the current Iranian and international laws, they have to uphold the previous decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court in Qom.
Watch Sekulow discuss the case on CBN:
Interestingly, Nadarkhani's lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, claimed that, because Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim prior to becoming a Christian pastor, he hadn't technically renounced Islam. The court, of course, didn't necessarily buy into this rationale.
Under Islamic law, repenting would involve the pastor apologizing and denouncing his conversion to Christianity. To date, this has not happened, as Nadarkhani has stuck to his religious ideals.
Now, his day of reckoning has come, as he is being asked to recant during court hearings this week (purportedly ending today). If he refuses -- as he has done thus far -- the Christian Post reports that he will be executed by hanging as early as next Wednesday. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that works to ensure religious freedom, further explains (emphasis mine):
Following investigation, the court in Rasht has ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has made it clear to the court that the repeated demand for recanting is against both Iranian law and the constitution. The court replied that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand.
The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. However, using a loophole in Iran’s constitution, the judges in Rasht based their original verdict on fatwas by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the “father” of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and of Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran.
This case will likely be settled in the coming days, as religious freedom advocates desperately attempt to save the life of a man who is guilty of nothing more than adhering to a personal belief system.