Youcef Nadarkhani is the pastor of a 400-member church in Iran’s Gilan province. As you might suspect, it’s not easy being a Christian in Iran even in the best of times. And for our Iranian brother, these are far from the best of times.
Nadarkhani’s tribulations started when he complained to local officials about his son being forced to read from the Koran. It’s difficult to imagine the courage required to do that, and Iranian officials quickly set about to make him pay the price.
He was arrested in June of 2009 and ordered to renounce his faith. When he refused, his wife, Fatemeh, was also arrested as a way to increase the pressure. While she was released four months later, Iranian officials weren’t done with Nadarkhani.
He was then charged with apostasy: in this case, converting from Islam to Christianity.
Technically, apostasy isn’t a crime under Iranian law – his “prosecution,” if you want to call it that, was based on the writings of men like Ayatollah Khomeini.
In their view, it doesn’t matter that Nadarkhani never was a practicing Muslim. All that matters is that his ancestors were.
So, when Nadarkhani told the court “repent means return” and asked what he should return to, the Court had an answer straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland: Nadarkhani should return to the “religion of [his] ancestors, Islam.”
Think about that for a minute: That’s like telling me that I should “return” to the religion of my Swedish ancestors and worship Thor.
Nonetheless, Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for his refusal to “repent.”
The sentence has prompted outrage around the world: Amnesty International called it a “clear violation of international law.” The White House denounced what it called Iran’s “utter disregard” for religious freedom. It said that Nadarkhani “has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people,” and called on Tehran to release him.
I’m grateful for the White House’s statement. I am also thankful for the efforts of groups like the American Center for Law and Justice who are working to bring attention to Nadarkhani’s plight.
Unfortunately, Nadarkhani is far from unique: It’s part of what Amnesty called “the pattern of persecution based on religion in Iran.” By one estimate, at least 200 Christians were arrested in the last half of 2010 for simply practicing their faith.
But don’t think Iran is somehow unique: in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, both recipients of your tax dollars, converts to Christianity have faced the death penalty.
While none have been executed officially, some have been murdered, and their killers remain free.
As Amnesty’s Elise Auerbach told Fox News, “The key [to easing Nadarkhani’s plight] is to keep up the pressure and to publicize the story because it obviously outrages most people.”
I couldn’t agree more – I would only add that our efforts should extend to all Christians suffering for their faith in the Islamic world. Please visit us at Breakpoint.org; we’ll link you to the ACLJ so you can add your voice of protest and keep abreast of Nadarkhani’s plight, and as well as keep him in your prayers.