The confusion surrounding the court case of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is due primarily to sensationalization by the Iranian media, according to Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor in Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for protesting against his son being forced to read the Quran in school. His charge was later changed to apostasy, or preaching Christianity to Muslims. He was found guilty in the lower court of the local Gilan Province.
He appealed his case in December 2010, taking it to the Supreme Court of Iran. The Supreme Court retorted by stating that Nadarkhani’s Muslim ancestry makes him guilty, giving him the ultimatum: “renounce or die.”
During his appeals process, the Iranian press began releasing sensationalized information, calling Nadarkhani a rapist, convicted extortionist, and convicted brothel owner, claiming that was the reason Nadarkhani was put on trial.
This is because although execution due to rape is a written law in Iran, execution due to apostasy is not. It is, however, a fatwa, or a verbal code initiated by Muslim leaders in powerful political positions, therefore allowing it to hold sway in legal court. The high religious leaders Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini have backed this fatwa.
International organizations have accused Iran of violating its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which allows freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion.
International pressure caused “local government officials [to start] putting out this information on him saying he was a convicted rapist,” Sekulow told The Christian Post.
“They haven’t executed someone for apostasy at the state level since 1990,” he added.
The U.S. then received secret documents of the Iranian Supreme Court stating clearly that Nadarkhani had been put on trial for execution due to apostasy, nothing else.
“We caught them this time, and because of that they are in crisis mode,” said Sekulow.
Nadarkhani was given three opportunities to renounce his religion. When he did not renounce his faith, the Supreme Court responded by passing the case back to the lower court of the Gilan Province, stating that if the court could prove Nadarkhani was a Muslim after age 15, he would be found guilty.
After the court was unable to confirm Nadarkhani’s belief in Islam after age 15, rather than granting the pastor his freedom, it instead passed the case to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the “ultimate authority in Iranian affairs.”
“There’s no way they’d be going to the Ayatollah if this had anything to do other than religious law,” contended Sekulow.
“Christians are killed all the time, not in a trial setting but gunned down and there’s no court case and no one ever gets arrested for doing it,” said Sekulow.
“This is unique,” he added, stating that putting the case in the hands of the Ayatollah is “unprecedented.”
Sekulow concluded by saying the main goal is to keep Nadarkhani’s case in the spotlight.
“It is up to us to continue a lot of pressure now because we know from Iran’s history that they delay court cases to get them out of the media. They’re known for that,” said Sekulow.
International pressure from the U.S., France, and Britain has forced the Supreme Court to confirm that Nadarkhani is in fact still alive, and the court is still awaiting news on Khamenei’s “review.”