Iranian Pastor Death Sentence: Australian Christians Urge Government to Increase International Pressure

The Australian Christian Lobby, a Christian political lobby group based in Canberra, Australia, is advocating for the Australian government to make representations to Iran concerning the Christian pastor who may be executed for his faith.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is waiting for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khameni to reveal his “opinion” concerning the pastor’s case within the next 15 days.

ACL’s Lyle Shelton has announced, “We join many churches and groups nationally and internationally to condemn the death sentence of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.”

Iran’s constitutional law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion. However, in practice apostasy is a charge punishable by death.

In the case of Nardarkhani, he was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion and he has allegedly been found guilty of apostasy simply due to his Muslim ancestry, rather than his own personal beliefs.

“Both issues need to be raised with the Iranian government. We need to hear from the Australian Government that protection of religious freedom is something to be upheld,” Shelton said to International News magazine.

The magazine reports that Australian foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd has yet to speak out about Nadarkhani’s case but has come forward to say a recent lashing sentence given to an Iranian actress was deeply concerning.

Shelton said, “[The] Australian Government needs to be doing all it can to communicate to the Iranian Government that religious freedom is something to be recognized.”

Authorities arrested Nadarkhani in his home city of Rasht in Oct. 2009 because he allegedly questioned his child being forced to read the Quran in school. In September 2010 the court of appeals in Rasht found him guilty of apostasy and in November issued a written confirmation of his charges and death sentence.

He was found guilty in the lower, local court of the Gilan Province. After appealing his case to the Supreme Court, officials gave Nadarkhani an ultimatum: "renounce your faith or die."

When he refused the Iranian Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court saying if it could be proven the Iranian pastor was Muslim after the age of 15 he could be executed for apostasy. The lower court, seemingly uncomfortable with all the local and international pressure surrounding the decision has now passed the case onto Iran’s Supreme Leader; in a move that is extremely rare.

International pressure continues to be placed on the Iranian government and Nadarkhani is awaiting the ruling of the Supreme Leader, which is expected in the next 2 to 3 weeks.

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