(Photo: Courtesy of ACLJ.org)
Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is still alive and recent reports of his execution are false, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which was able to confirm on March 26 that the imprisoned evangelical minister's death sentence for apostasy has not been carried out.
Many followers of Nadarkhani's case grew alarmed after a purported image of the pastor was in wide circulation on the Internet. The image shows the Iranian pastor blindfolded, standing on gallows next to a noose while two armed guards stand behind him.
This image fueled rumors that Nadarkhani had in fact been executed. Iran has a history of executing prisoners without warning, sometimes leaving the body of the executed at the family's doorstep, according to the ACLJ.
The ACLJ has confirmed that the image, which has reportedly been in circulation since July 2011, is a fake and the execution rumors are false. The organization stipulates that the false execution reports and images may be a part of a misinformation campaign initiated by the Iranian regime.
Regardless of the misinformation's source, the ACLJ confirms that the rumors could have a potentially negative effect on Nadarkhani's release.
The ACLJ announced on Feb. 21 that a death order had been issued for the Iranian pastor, who has been imprisoned since Oct. 2009. Nadarkhani was initially arrested for protesting the mandatory teaching of Islam in his children's school, but his charges were later changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.
Many critics argue that Iran should have issued a verdict by now, but is stalling Nadarkhani's case in order to lessen international pressure.
His case has gained a large amount of international support, as many countries recognize Iran's violation of human rights, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The American Center for Law and Justice has played a large role in ensuring Nadarkhani's case be heard. In mid-February, the nonprofit organization began the "Tweet for Youcef" campaign, which has garnered support from around the world. The campaign uses Twitter to inform users of Nadarkhani's plight.
Iran has continued to defend its imprisonment of Nadarkhani, saying that the country is not in violation of its human rights laws.
"Christianity and Judaism are preached in Iran. We have a number of synagogues; we have a number of churches. But there is no need to humiliate, to offend Islam," Iranian envoy Mohammad Javad Larijani said at a United Nations human rights meeting in mid-March.
Larijani reportedly went on to say that Nadarkhani, an evangelical Christian, "offended Islam" by preaching Christianity.