Many influential politicians and officials in America are calling on Iran to stop the execution of Iranian Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for apostasy, but that has not helped his case even a bit, the pastor’s lawyer said.
“They (the courts) work on the evidence and Iranian law,” CNN quoted Nadarkhani’s lawyer Mohammad Dadkah as saying Friday. “I don’t think the statements from the United States has had any impact either on this case as this is all going through the Iranian justice system, which is based on the law and evidence.”
The evangelical pastor, from the Church of Iran denomination, was convicted of apostasy last year and was sentenced to death by hanging.
The lawyer said the lower court in the city of Rasht in northern Gilan Province has asked for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to rule on whether the pastor should be put to death. “I expect an opinion for Khamenei in about a week or so when he returns to work,” Dadkah said, adding that Khamenei was traveling.
Khamenei, the highest ranking political and religious authority in Shi’a-majority Iran, has more powers than even the president.
Lawyer Dadkah said Nadarkhani was doing well “both physically and spiritually and was strong” when he last met him about a week ago.
The 32-year-old pastor was arrested two years ago from Rasht for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools. Authorities, however, later changed the charges to apostasy. The Rasht court convicted him of forsaking Islam in 2010 and sentenced him to death although apostasy is not a crime as per Iran’s penal code.
The pastor appealed against the ruling at the Supreme Court in July. The court, however, held that apostasy was still punishable under Sharia while asking the lower court to reexamine whether Nadarkhani was a believer in Islam when he adopted Christianity at the age of 19.
Last month, Pastor Nadarkhani was told by authorities that he would be given three opportunities to embrace Islam and renounce his faith in Christianity to have the charges removed. But he refused to do so.
Last week, several Republicans released statements calling for the release of the pastor.
“There is no shade of gray or room for equivocation here,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his statement. “Freedom to worship is a basic human right, and the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani are an affront to the essential principles of the civilized world.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “While Iran’s government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity.”
Many other senators and congressmen have also urged Iran to free the pastor.
However, Iranian authorities seem to be trying hard to prove the pastor guilty, even if it means adding new, apparently fabricated charges. On Sept. 30, Gholomali Rezvani, deputy governor of Gilan province, told the local Fars news agency that Nadarkhani’s crime was not, “as some claim, converting others to Christianity.” He is guilty of “security-related crimes … He is a Zionist.” Rezvani alleged that the pastor was a “rapist” and “extortionist.”
“The fabrication of charges against Pastor Nadarkhani is to justify his sentence and is therefore acknowledgement that death for apostasy is not justifiable,” said Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance which represents over 600 million evangelical Christians around the world. “The authorities’ attempt to maintain the pastor’s capital punishment by adding false charges shows that Iran is going against its own conscience.”