Photo: Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (courtesy ACLJ)
A U.S.-based human rights group says it has received news of an execution order issued for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Christian pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2009. A 34-year-old father of two, Nadarkhani remains behind bars in Iran’s Lakan Prison, awaiting news of his fate.
On Monday Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), announced that his organization had received word from their contacts in Iran of an “extremely dangerous turn of events for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” stating that “there is an increased likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute Pastor Youcef for his faith.”
A council member from Nadarkhani’s church in Iran, Firouz Khandjani, says that the pastor was "allowed yesterday to speak with his wife from prison." He said that Nadarkhani “did not speak with her about the court order,” but that he “urges his church to stay firmly in Christ."
Risks of a Secret Execution
Jordan Sekulow says that “it is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order.” The organization has confirmed that Nadarkhani was alive as of Wednesday night, February 22, but Sekulow says that the risk of a secret execution is imminent. “The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public — most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.”
The American Center for Law and Justice has been leading a campaign for Nadarkhani’s release since 2009. The organization says that he has been illegally imprisoned for 864 days.
Sekulow adds that “There has been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month,” and that “Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.”
Charged with Apostasy
Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 in Iran’s northern city of Rasht in 2009. He had protested the teaching of Islam in the public school that his children attended. Although Youcef was originally arrested for protesting, the charges later changed to apostasy, the crime of leaving Islam for another religion. Nadarkhani has maintained that he has not been a practicing Muslim since becoming an adult, but Iran’s Gilan Provincial Court determined that since he had Muslim ancestry, he must recant his Christian faith. According to Nadarkhani’s attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, he has been given three chances to recant his faith. Nadarkhani has refused.
According to the American Center for Law & Justice, Pastor Youcef’s case “had been stalled due to increased international pressure,” but now, “because Pastor Youcef has continually refused to give into the regime’s demands that he renounce his Christian faith, the likelihood that the Iranian regime will execute him increases by the day.”