- (Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
The American Center for Law and Justice's sources in Iran confirmed Sunday that Youcef Nadarkhani is still alive, although it is still believed that Iranian courts have issued an execution warrant for the Christian pastor.
Middle East experts and international affairs organizations agree that Nadarkhani's case has caused the global community to transcend politics in unified support for the Iranian evangelical, and proves that there is concern for religious freedom around the world.
"We still believe that his execution has been ordered, but it is clear that renewed international pressure on Iran for Pastor Youcef's release is having an impact," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, wrote on the organization's website.
Nadarkhani has been imprisoned in Iran since October 2009, awaiting his verdict on charges of apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. Although he faces possible execution, Nadarkhani continues to hold true to his Christian faith.
The ACLJ announced on Feb. 21 that Iranian courts may have issued an execution order for Nadarkhani's death.
Critics argue that in the past, Iranian courts have played games in an attempt to convince Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith.
On June 18, 2010, the courts arrested Nadarkhani's wife, Fatema Pasindedih, on charges of apostasy. She was tried and found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. She appealed her case, and was released two weeks later.
According to Present Truth Ministries, this was a ploy on behalf of the Iranian courts to convince Nadarkhani to recant.
"Because Youcef's faith remained strong, they decided to arrest his wife in order to place more pressure on him," according to Present Truth Ministries.
The Christian Post spoke with Sekulow on Feb. 24 to gain further insight on Nadarkhani's current condition.
Sekulow believes that the Iranian courts are not bluffing, and that a request from Nadarkhani's lawyers to have the ACLJ notify the Western press of their client's current situation proves the execution threat is very much a reality.
"They do believe an execution order has been issued," Sekulow told CP.
"[Nadarkhani's legal teams] know how this operates. That's why I think everyone is so concerned right now as we go into this period. There's no way they would come to us, and the statements here coming out from world leaders and governments around the world if they weren't as certain as they can be," he said.
Sekulow said that the fact that so many countries, including the United States, have come together to support Nadarkhani proves that the world is still concerned about religious freedom.
"Conservatives and liberals all coming together and it's not a partisan issue," he pointed out.
"That is how you do something. It has to be the world, it just can't be the United States, it just can't be the ACLJ. And as we've seen, it's not. Christians, and Jews, and atheists and everyone comes together," Sekulow commented.
Several countries and international organizations have condemned Iran's detention of Nadarkhani, including the U.S., the Europe Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico, and Germany.
"The world being so focused on this, it probably leaves [Nadarkhani] with some kind of veil of protection. But I say veil because it's still Iran," Sekulow said, adding that the outcome of the trial is dependent on the reactions of the Iranian regime.
Previously, Iran has released religious leaders only to gun them down a year later. Others were executed in private, and their bodies dropped on their family's doorstep, according to Sekulow.
Even American mogul Donald Trump has voiced his support for the Iranian pastor, posting a tweet on Friday.
"Pastor #Nadarkhani must be released by Iran immediately. I applaud the @WhiteHouse & @StateDept for issuing statements. This issue transcends politics," Trump tweeted.
International Christian Concern, which focuses on Christian persecution cases, issued a statement Friday pleading for Nadarkhani's release.
Aidan Clay, ICC's regional manager for the Middle East, said that international pressure plays an integral role in Nadarkhani's fate.
"Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's execution may occur any day now. While execution orders are occasionally drawn out, more often than not prisoners are killed in secret without the world knowing until the body is dropped at the family's doorstep," Clay said in a statement emailed to CP.
"However, one thing is certain: international pressure has played an integral role in keeping Nadarkhani alive thus far. Now is not the time to lose hope, but to remain ardent in prayer and to fight this injustice by raising as much awareness as possible. Most likely, the Iranian government will listen to nothing else but worldwide condemnation," he added.
Although Iran's secretive judicial system leaves the international community questioning Nadarkhani's fate, observers agree that without international pressure, the married father of two would have likely been executed already.