- (Photo: Courtesy of ACLJ.org)
Differing reports from Iran, Israel and the United States have the international community continually questioning the fate of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is imprisoned in Iran on charges of apostasy and, according to those close to his case, has been sentenced to death for refusing to recant his faith.
One report in particular, released by Iran's state-funded network Press TV, denies the issuing of an execution order. It also references Nadarkhani's Christianity, which Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, deems a "slip" on behalf of the Iranian news network.
On Feb. 21, the American Center for Law and Justice announced that Iranian courts may have issued an execution warrant for pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned on charges of apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims since Oct. 2009.
The news was backed by several Western media outlets, including Fox News and CNN. The White House and the U.S. State Department both released statements condemning Iran for the execution order, confirming that an order had indeed been issued.
On Friday, Feb. 24, Iran's Press TV reported that an execution order had not been issued.
"Iran's Supreme Court has not yet handed down its final verdict in the case of the pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in order to allow authorities to further investigate the file and reach the best decision," the report read.
Sekulow of the ACLJ argues that this recent report is Iran's method of "backtracking" in the case, as it has done in the past.
In Oct. 2011, another state-owned new channel, Fars News, reported that Nadarkhani would be facing charges of rape and extortion, not apostasy.
These charges were found to be false when the American Center for Law and Justice obtained legal documents which verified Nadarkhani was on trial for apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.
According to Sekulow, Iran repeatedly uses this method of backtracking to validate its charges and calm the international community, which has been paying close attention to the pastor's case.
However, as shown by Press TV's Friday report, Iran has tried to change Nadarkhani's charges to be nonreligious, so as to avoid criticism for human rights violations.
In Friday's report, however, Press TV mentions Nadarkhani's Christian affiliation, revealing: "[Nadarkhani] made headlines in the Western media which claimed he has been sentenced to death for apostasy."
"Nevertheless, he has not even named the church where it is claimed he has received a degree authorizing him to perform religious duties and ceremonies in Christianity," the report added.
"That quick diction made it clear that this really is an issue about Christianity," Sekulow, analyzing Press TV's report, told CP.
The Press TV report goes on to condemn Western media for focusing on Nadarkhani's case, saying: "Western media outlets' obsession with handwringing about Nadarkhani's case aims to mount pressure against Iran in light of the 4th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, which is scheduled to take place on March 13, 2012."
According to Sekulow, Iran's recent Press TV report proves that international pressure has once again saved Nadarkhani's life, forcing Iran to stall.
"We knew that our goal of last week was like it was in September, which was 'get [Iran's] attention, hopefully stall them.' This is a sign of that," Sekulow said.
Israel's national news network Arutz Sheva 7 also produced a mixed report regarding Nadarkhani's execution order, saying Monday that Iranian officials had chosen to postpone Nadarkhani's execution.
According to the report, Nadarkhani's execution was supposed to occur Tuesday, but "Iran has put off the execution of Christian Pastor Yousof [sic] Nadarkhani -- probably in response to massive international pressure -- but it is not clear for how long."
The international community has continued to pressure Iran to release Nadarkhani. So far, the United States, European Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico, and Germany have all openly condemned Iran for its violation of human rights in Nadarkhani's case.
Congress has scheduled a vote as early as Wednesday regarding House Resolution 556, drafted by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), which requests Iran's immediate release of Nadarkhani.
Currently, Nadarkhani's wife, Fatema Pasindedih, and sons, Daniel, age 9, and Yoel, age 7, await further news regarding his fate.