An Iranian government official on Friday accused Western media of misleadingly reporting the story of Youcef Nadarkhani, the 34-year-old Christian evangelical pastor who continues to await execution, but for offenses that are now unclear.
“His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity,” said Gholomali Rezvani, deputy governor of Iran’s Gilan province, where the persecuted pastor was sentenced to death by hanging. “He is guilty of security-related crimes.”
Those crimes, claimed Rezvani, in remarks reported by Fars news agency (the Iranian government’s unofficial mouthpiece), include rape and extortion. “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion,” he insisted.
The Iranian provincial governor’s explanation of Pastor Nadarkhani’s death sentence does not square with court records of the trial, conviction and appeal of the leader of 400 Christian house churches – whom Rezvani disparagingly described as a “Zionist” criminal.
Nadarkhani was arrested two years ago this month for refusing to comply with the Iranian government’s dictate that non-Muslim schoolchildren read the Quran. The Christian pastor protested that Iran’s constitution allowed children to be reared according to their parents’ faith.
In September 2010, a Gilan province court sentenced Nadarkhani to death by hanging for “convert(ing) to Christianity” and “encourag(ing) other Muslims to convert to Christianity.”
Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the Christian pastor’s death sentence this year, while ordering a reexamination of the case. That reexamination began this past Sunday and continued through this week.
On Wednesday, Nadarkhani was given an opportunity to renounce his Christian faith and avoid execution. But he refused to do so, for the fourth time since his arrest in 2009.
The outcry against the Iranian government by evangelicals worldwide, along with pressure applied by foreign governments and unfavorable news coverage by the Western media, may just help Nadarkhani escape the hangman’s noose.
His attorney, Mohammadali Dadkhah, said Friday, that despite the last-minute allegations of rape and extortion against Nadarkhani, he doesn’t believe the Christian pastor actually will be executed.
“The case is still in progress,” said Dadkhah, optimistically estimating a 95 percent probability that his client will not be put to death.” If, ultimately, the Iranian pastor’s life is spared, it will fulfill the prayers of millions of Christians throughout the world.