EU Pressures Iran to Release Pastor Nadarkhani and Repeal Death Penalty

The Europe Union reiterated its plea to Iran Friday, urging the country to release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who both face execution at the hands of Iran’s judiciary system.

“Thousands of individuals remain at risk of execution, including Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The EU reiterates its call on Iran not to execute them,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a written statement Friday.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in Oct. 2009 for protesting against the teaching of Islam in his children’s schools. His charge was then changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims, and he was sentenced to execution unless he renounced his faith. Nadarkhani stuck strong to his beliefs, and his case now sits in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for final review.

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Nadarkhani’s case is not Iran’s only human rights controversy gaining international attention. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, mother of two, faces being stoned to death on accusations of committing adultery dating back to 2006.

Similarly to Nadarkhani's case, Ashtiani's original charges were changed. Although she was originally charged with adultery, she was later charged with being an accessory to murder in her husband's death. Officials also claim she confessed to having an affair with her husband's killer, Eisa Taheri, whom officials say she helped plot her husband's murder. While Iran has yet to show whether it actually intends to carry out Ashtiani's death sentence, Taheri will reportedly serve a 10-year sentence.

The EU joins the expansive list of countries and government bodies condemning Iran for its obvious neglect of human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 89 members of the U.S. Congress, France, Great Britain, and Mexico have all voiced their condemnation of Nadarkhani’s execution.

Ashton also requested Iran to repeal its death penalty, as it holds the highest number of execution per inhabitant in the world.

“Hundreds of individuals were executed in 2011 after grossly unfair trials, without the right of appeal and for offenses, which according to international standards should not result in capital punishment,” Ashton said Friday.

Human Rights organizations, including the American Center for Law and Justice and The Voice of the Martyrs, believe that it is international attention which continues to keep Nadarkhani alive.

“The good news is that he has really stood firm in his faith, and the other good news is that the world is still paying attention,” Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development at The Voice of the Martyrs, told The Christian Post.

In mid-December a statement released by Present Truth Ministries announced that Iran’s court was postponing Nadarkhani’s verdict for four months, even possibly up to a year, according to some reports.

Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani requested that presiding judge Ghazi Kashani delay the case.

As Nettleton contends, this may be an attempt by the Iranian government to get Nadarkhani’s case out of the international spotlight, as well as a continued attempt to convert the evangelical Christian pastor to Islam.

“The recent EU action tells us that the world is pretty committed to having a voice on behalf of justice for [Nadarkhani],” Nettleton said.

Nadarkhani currently awaits a final verdict in an Iran prison, where he has remained for the past three years.

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