TEHRAN (BP) — Iranian officials may have issued an order to execute a pastor at the center of a high-profile case that has drawn international attention, according to a legal group that has followed the case.
The statement asked for Christians worldwide to pray.
The American Center for Law and Justice Tuesday (Feb. 21) quoted its sources as saying pastor Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani could be executed at any time. Nadarkhani was convicted and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.
“Pastor Youcef’s situation — an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian — has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year,” the ACLJ said on its website. “It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order.”
The ACLJ statement said simply, “We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.”
A second group that monitors religious liberty, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), released a statement saying the situation is dire. Nadarkhani’s lawyer, CSW reported, is “is trying to confirm reports that the Iranian authorities have decided to execute the pastor.”
“There are grave concerns that the death sentence could be carried out at any time without prior notification and that the authorities will merely announce it later, a practice that is not uncommon in Iran,” CSW said.
Said ACLJ, “There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.”
Western leaders have spoken out for Nadarkhani. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in December calling for Nadarkhani and several other prisoners of conscience worldwide to be released “immediately and unconditionally.”
The case dates back to 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals. In 2011 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim — a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.
In September, he was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. His case then was referred to the ayatollah. The American Center for Law and Justice 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?” Nadarkhani asked.
“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.
“I cannot,” the pastor responded.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.