Media accounts of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani differ greatly between the U.S. and Iran, leading some in the international community to criticize Iran and the Iranian media for taking Nadarkhani’s case too lightly.
Iran’s Press TV, which many deem to be connected with the Iranian government, has long received criticism for its allegedly biased stance.
In preparation for the June 2009 presidential elections, hundreds of Iranians gathered to protest the state-run television network, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). The IRIB controls Press TV.
Iranian parliament chairman Ali Larijani said the state-run broadcaster provided “very biased coverage” in reference to the 2009 presidential elections.
Iran’s Press TV has also received criticism for defending the courts and government in Nadarkhani’s case.
Nadarkhani was originally found guilty for apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims, and sentenced to execution.
The U.S. media claimed Iranian authorities changed their charges in Oct. 2011, citing Nadarkhani for Zionism, rape and extortion, in order to validate an execution sentence.
International pressure on the case caused “local government officials [to start] putting out this information on [Nadarkhani] saying he was a convicted rapist,” Jordan Sekulow, Director of Policy and International Relations at the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Christian Post.
“They haven’t executed someone for apostasy at the state level since 1990,” he added.
The U.S. then received secret documents of the Iranian Supreme Court stating clearly that Nadarkhani had been put on trial for execution due to apostasy, nothing else.
“We caught them this time, and because of that they are in crisis mode,” said Sekulow.
Iranian press shot back at these claims, defending the court’s decision.
“Nadarkhani has a history of committing violent crimes and that he has never received a death penalty for his religious preference." Iran’s Press TV declared in October.
“Western media have manipulated the case of Nadarkhani, a convicted rapist and extortionist in Gilan Province, to rage an anti-Iran publicity campaign by falsely claiming that his criminal conviction his conversion to Christianity and acting as a ‘priest,’” they added.
Tiffany Barrans, International Legal Director at the ACLJ, argues that most of the Iranian media has taken a biased approach to Nadarkhani's case.
"Even after we had proven the official statements that Nadarkhani was a convicted rapist, security threat, and Zionist false, the Iranian state-funded media continues to print these lies," she told The Christian Post.
"But what can be expected when the so-called-freedom of press in Iran results itself in imprisonment and persecution of journalists," she added.
Nadarkhani’s case now sits in the hands of supreme leader Ali Khamenei for review. Either Khamenei or the courts will announce Nadarkhani’s verdict by mid- December.
Regardless of varying portrayals of the case, many argue that international attention has kept Nadarkhani alive.
One Middle Eastern analyst told the ACLJ that international pressure “may be the only reason [Nadarkhani is] still alive.”
Nadarkhani currently awaits his verdict in Iranian prison.