(Photo: REUTERS/ Lucas Jackson)
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani needs Christians around the world to stand in the gap for him as he faces execution Thursday at the hands of the Iranian government. That was the urgent email message disseminated Wednesday by International Christian Concern, a Washington, D.C., organization that assists the worldwide persecuted Christian church.
Nadarkhani, leader of a 400-strong house church movement in Rasht, Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for opposing the Islamic republic’s requirement that non-Muslim students read the Quran in school. The Christian pastor had argued that the Iranian constitution permitted children to be raised in their parents’ faith.
In September 2010, an Iranian regional court sentenced Nadarkhani to death by hanging for “convert(ing) to Christianity” and “encourag(ing) other Muslims to convert to Christianity.”
The Iranian Supreme Court upheld the 34-year-old Christian pastor’s death sentence this past July, while ordering a reexamination of the case. That reexamination began this past Sunday and continued the following three days.
On Wednesday, Nadarkhani refused for the fourth time in open court to renounce his Christian faith. That’s one opportunity more than required under Iranian law to execute the pastor for apostasy.
In a letter Nadarkhani wrote last June from Iran’s Lakin Prison, he affirmed his determination to stay true to his Christian faith even to his death.
“Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests,” he wrote, adding that “no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests and gain victory.”
While the religious community in the United States has raised its collective voice against the Iranian government, as it moved ever closer Wednesday to sending Nadarkhani to the gallows, there has been little protest at the highest level of the U.S. government.
There has been condemnation of Tehran this week from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency, whose chairman described the court proceedings against Nadarkhani as “a sham” that is “contrary to Iranian law and international human rights standards.”
But as the persecuted Christian pastor nears execution, nary a word of protest has been heard from President Obama or even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who just this month released a report that listed Iran as one the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
”In Iran,“ she said, ”authorities continue to repress Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Sunnis, Ahmadis and others who do not share the government’s religious views.“
Unless there is some near-miracle Thursday, frets ICC, Pastor Nadarkhani will become the latest victim of the Islamic republic’s oppression.