THE lawyer acting for the Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who faces the death penalty for refusing to recant his Christian faith, is “optimistic” that his sentence may be revoked, it has been reported.
Mr Nadarkhani was sentenced to death in the city of Rasht, north Iran, in 2009 (News, 30 September). He has refused three times to reconvert to Islam. The case of Mr Nadarkhani, a father of two and a member of the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran, has been taken up by governments in the UK and the United States.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has called on the Iranian regime to overturn the “deplorable” sentence. “I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani, who has no case to answer, and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.” The Archbishop of Canterbury has also expressed “deep concern” over the sentence.
Now, Mr Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, has told Reuters news agency that he is “optimistic that the Supreme Court in [the holy Shi’ite city of] Qom will drop the case altogether. I am 95 per cent sure about it. . . The court is on [next] Monday, and I think that the court decision will come out next Monday.”
He had seen his client several times in prison last week, and said that, although Mr Nadarkhani was physically weak, “emotionally, his belief in Christ is keeping his spirits high.”
The deputy governor-general of the northern province of Gilan, Gholam-Ali Rezvani, said on Friday that Mr Nadarkhani had been sentenced to death not for apostasy, but for other crimes. “The issue of capital punishment of Nadarkhani is not a matter of faith or religion. . . one cannot be executed for changing his religion in our system,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mr Rezvani as saying.
“He was a Zionist, a traitor, and had committed security crimes,” Mr Rezvani said.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which is championing Mr Nadarkhani’s case, said that it had forwarded more than 19,000 emails about the case to the Iranian embassy in the UK. CSW said that the talk of other charges against Mr Nadarkhani was a “worrying development”, and said that it had been unable to corroborate reports that the sentence might be revoked.
“There have been examples of the Iranian court doing one thing and saying another. There are still very large question marks over Mr Nadarkhani’s case,” a spokesman said. CSW is expecting a written judgment on the case shortly.
The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said: “CSW urges caution over the recent reports of verbal annulment of the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani. Until a written verdict is confirmed to have been received by credible sources, there must be no let-up in pressure on the Iranian regime.
“Continued international vigilance and pressure is vital: the life of this man is still very much in the balance.”
On Wednesday, the former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote to President Ahmadinejad asking for clemency. The death sentence went beyond the Iranian constitution, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he argued.
Question of the week: Is any Muslim state justified in punishing apostasy?