TEHRAN (BP)–Imprisoned Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani “remains in grave danger of execution more now than ever” with a verdict in his case expected Oct. 10, although one watch group fears that the death sentence could be implemented without any prior announcement.
Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 and charged with apostasy, an offense punishable by hanging. A lower court found that while he had never been Muslim, he was guilty of apostasy because he came from a Muslim family. The Iranian Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.
“Continued international vigilance and pressure is vital: the life of this man is still very much in the balance,” the Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide said.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said “new disturbing and conflicting falsehoods” circulated by Iranian state-funded PressTV could lead to Nadarkhani’s execution faster than the original apostasy charges.
PressTV reported Oct. 5 that “there has been no execution order” but that Nadarkhani was guilty of security charges and running a brothel though his verdict had not been finalized. ACLJ and others organizations call the charges false.
“This individual is guilty and his crime is not attempting to convert others to Christianity, rather his crimes are of a security nature,” an Iranian official said, according to the Iranian website.
The news agency continued, “Western media have manipulated the case of Nadar-Khani, a convicted rapist and extortionist in Gilan Province, to wage an anti-Iran publicity campaign by falsely claiming that his criminal conviction [is] his conversion to Christianity and acting as a ‘priest.'”
“Iran has firmly refuted Western allegations of violating human rights, insisting that Nadar-Khani has a history of committing violent crimes and that he has never received a death penalty for his religious preference,” PressTV said.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said the PressTV report constitutes more lies being spread by the Iranian government in an attempt to silence growing international support for Nadarkhani.
“What is most dangerous is that the state-run press calls him a ‘convicted rapist,'” Sekulow wrote Oct. 5. “According to a 2010 State Department report, ‘rape is a capital offense,’ and thus he could still be executed at any time.
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that the Iranian ‘government executed approximately 312 persons in summary executions during’ 2010, with a ‘sharp rise in executions’ this year,” Sekulow wrote.
“The most disturbing part of this is that false rape charges are often used to execute political and religious dissidents. What is clear from these developments is that Pastor Youcef remains in grave danger of execution more now than ever.”
In another post at aclj.org, Sekulow wrote that efforts to put international media and political pressure on Iran to release Nadarkhani “are having a tremendous impact.”
Sekulow quoted an Iranian expert who explained that as soon as Iran’s regime is placed under international pressure because of its “barbaric Middle Age laws, the regime looks for another reason to peddle” its execution sentence.
“These are boldfaced lies being spread by the Iranian regime about Pastor Yousef because they have been caught in the act of attempting to execute a man for his faith,” Sekulow wrote Oct. 4.
Present Truth Ministries, which has been working with the ACLJ to secure information about the pastor, said a group of officials from Tehran interviewed Nadarkhani Oct. 4 regarding the charges filed against him.
“While it seems like a positive development, some observers are concerned that they could manipulate his words in an attempt to prove their false charges against him,” Present Truth Ministries said, adding, “We have been informed that the verdict is to be delivered on Monday, Oct. 10. There is speculation that the delay is a sign that the judges have decided to consult with key religious and political leaders, such as the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
The ministries group asked believers to pray for the two Iranian leaders as well as for Nadarkhani’s wife Tina and sons Daniel and Joel.
“Iran is listening, so let’s keep speaking,” Sekulow wrote for the ACLJ. He urged people to sign a petition to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pressure Iran for Nadarkhani’s release. The petition is available on the ACLJ website.
Nadarkhani’s refusal to recant his faith has inspired Christians worldwide. The ACLJ reported one of his court exchanges.
“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” he asked.
“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.
“I cannot,” Nadarkhani responded.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.