Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani awaits execution in Iran as he refuses to renounce his Christian faith for the second day in a row. He will be asked to recant in two more court hearings on the 27 and the 28, and if he again refuses, execution by hanging will follow as early as Wednesday.
The case began in October 2009 when Nadarkhani protested at the local school of his two sons. The government had recently passed a law stating that Islam must be imposed on children in local school, and even on Christian children.
Nadarkhani publically protested at the school, stating the law was unconstitutional because it did not allow the free practice of religion. His protest caught the attention of the police and government.
On October 12, 2009 secret police put him in front of a tribunal for protesting charges. Before moving to the next stage of trial, Nadarkhani's charges were changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.
He was tried in local Rasht court for apostasy, or a renunciation of Islam, and evangelizing Muslims.
In Sept. 2010, he was given the death sentence for apostasy. The written sentence was delayed until Nov. 2010.
He appealed his case in December 2010, taking it to the Supreme Court of Iran. His lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, argued that because he was not a practicing Muslim before becoming a pastor, he did not technically “renounce” Islam.
The Supreme Court retorted by stating that Nadarkhani’s Muslim ancestry makes him guilty.
Considering that Iran is 99 percent Islam, Dadkhah questions the ability of any citizen to be considered exempt from Islam ancestry.
The Supreme Court did provide Nadarkhani with one option of survival: the ultimatum of “renounce or die.”
Execution due to apostasy is not a written law in Iran. It is, however, a fatwa, or a verbal code initiated by Muslim leaders in powerful political positions, therefore allowing it to hold sway in legal court. The high religious leader Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollas Khomeini have backed this fatwa.
According to article 167 of the Iranian constitution, “If such a basis doesn’t exist, [the court] must cite reliable Islamic sources or a valid fatwa from which they have drawn a judgment in order to issue a verdict.”
Other fatwas causing legal friction in the Arab world include the driving ban imposed on women in Saudi Arabia, for which a female violator is currently standing trial.
“The court replied that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported in its press release.
Defense attorney Dadkhah uses Iran’s violation of the country’s law and constitution, especially its written approval of freedom of speech, as his main premise for defense.
Dadkhah is also under fire for his participation in this case. A founding member of the Iranian organization Defenders of Human Rights Center, he is currently appealing charges of nine years imprisonment and 10 years ban on practicing law for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic Regime,” according to CSW.
CSW, which is attempting to garner international support for Nadarkhani’s case, cites Iran’s violation of law, including the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion” […] and article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”