(Photo: Courtesy of ACLJ.org)
Members of the German parliament have joined the global community in pressuring the Iranian government to free evangelical Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who remains in prison with a pending death verdict for alleged apostasy.
A commission in the German Bundestag (the national parliament) recently gathered signatures from Parliament members in a petition for Nadarkhani's release, local media have reported. Parliament members reportedly asked the Iranian government to overturn Nadarkhani's death sentence and to exonerate the embattled pastor – who has now become almost an international poster child for Christian martyrs – according to Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News.
At the same time, signatories noted in the petition the existence of "restrictions that limit them in influencing the Iranian regime regarding political and Human Rights issues," the agency reported.
Iran has received a large amount of criticism for violating the international covenant on civil and political rights in Nadarkhani's case. Intense pressure eventually caused Iranian officials to pass Nadarkhani's case to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for final review, before whom the case now sits, awaiting a verdict.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for "immediate and unconditional" release of Nadarkhani in December, followed by the European Union. In addition, 89 members of the U.S. Congress, France, Great Britain and Mexico are among those who have condemned Iran, demanding Nadarkhani's release.
Prior to the petition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also reportedly called for Nadarkhani's immediate release. Recently, Tom Koenigs, Chairman of the Committee for Human Rights in the German Parliament, even traveled to Iran to investigate the imprisoned pastor's condition, according to Mohabat News.
Nadarkhani has been held in an Iranian prison since 2009 on charges of apostasy, abandoning Islam. He was first tried and convicted in 2010, and sentenced to death by hanging. In Nov. 2010, this ruling was upheld by the First Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which cooperates with the pastor's attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. In Dec. 2010, Nadarkhani's case was referred to the Supreme Court in the city of Qom, Iran, which upheld the apostasy conviction and the death sentence, the ACLJ said.
While affirming the validity of apostasy mandating death, the Supreme Court provisionally returned the case to the state court of Gilan for further investigation as to whether the pastor was a Muslim between the age of majority (15 years old) and the age of his conversion to Christianity (19 years old). The Supreme Court reportedly decided that "if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out."
However, that is where the case stalled, although the court was obliged to have made a decision by now, ACLJ's International Legal Director Tiffany N. Barrans told CP.
"The court failed to follow its own procedural laws," Barrans said. "It is crucial that we put pressure on the court to issue its written decision as continuing to hold Pastor Youcef violates both Iranian and international laws."
In a recent statement to CP, a spokesperson for Present Truth Ministries, a Christian advocacy group, revealed that Nadarkhani's lawyers met last week with the chief justice of Gilan province, who told them that if Nadarkhani "repents," that is, reject Christianity and returns to Islam, he will be released from prison.
The pastor reportedly said that it is impossible for him to "return" to Islam since he was never a Muslim at any time in his life, Present Truth Ministries' founder, Jason DeMars, said in a statement emailed to CP.
"Because of your prayers and efforts the regime is afraid to issue a negative verdict and yet they do not want to simply release him as it would be admitting their own shame," DeMars said. "Please continue to pray for Youcef and this case. Pray for the chief justice to have a change of heart. Pray that God accomplishes His purpose through our brother's life."
The first apostasy verdict for an Iranian Christian convert was issued in 1990 for the Rev. Hossein Soodmand, who was executed by hanging that same year.