The open and outrageous persecution of non-Muslims in Iran continues with today’s news of the Christmas Day arrest of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Pastor who previously spent three years in prison facing the death penalty for the crime of leaving Islam as a teenager to embrace his Christian faith. The Pastor was held until Monday January 7, 2013, when he was finally released.
Pastor Nadarkhani was at home celebrating with his family when the orders for his re-arrest were issued by an Iranian Judge who ruled the Pastor must serve the remaining 45 days of his former sentence. Supporters of the embattled Pastor are angered by the special cruelty of arresting him in front of his wife and children while the family gathered to celebrate the Christmas holy days.
A letter from the US House Of Representatives in support of the Pastor was signed US Congressmen Joe Pitts and Keith Ellison:
“Given its persecution of Pastor Youcef because of his Christian faith, it was particularly cruel to imprison him on Christmas Day.”
While public worship by non-Muslims is banned by the Ayatollah’s who rule Iran, Christians are permitted to establish home churches under the Iranian Constitution. Sadly, this law is often ignored by the Iranian secret police, who are notorious for raiding Christian homes; beating and arresting any and all persons who gather to celebrate Mass or hold a prayer meeting.
Nadarkhani was originally arrested in 2009 and held for three years under a sentence of death for apostasy. Although he was born a Muslim, he left Islam before adulthood and converted to Christianity. The Iranian authorities ruled that under Shariah Law, and the Iranian Constitution, anyone who reaches puberty and leaves Islam is an Apostate and must be sentenced to death.
The original case against the Pastor began when he went to local authorities to complain about the forced indoctrination of his children into Islam by various school teachers. The authorities discovered that not only was Nadarkhani born to Muslim parents, but he was an practicing Protestant Pastor and he led a popular house church. He was arrested, dragged off to prison, throwing into isolation and accused of the serious crimes of Apostasy and converting other Muslims to Christianity; both punishable by death under Sharia Law.
After the arrest, the Iranian authorities took extreme measures against Nadarkhani. They offered to drop all the charges if he would come back to to Islam, harassed his lawyers and denied him medical care. On June 18, 2010, Nadarkhani’s wife was arrested and charged with Apostasy. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but later released after serving only four months. The overwhelming goal of the authorities has always been to force the Pastor to renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam.
Only the loud and incessant outcry of the international community spared Mr. Nadarkhani from his original sentence and he sat in solitary confinement for three long years awaiting his fate. Prior to his release the Iranian authorities upped the ante and accused the Pastor of running a brothel, rape and spying for Israel.
Gholamali Rezvani, the Gilan Provincial Political and Security Deputy Governor, made the following claims:
“Youcef Nadarkhani has security crimes and he had set up a house of corruption. … Nobody is executed in our regime for choosing a religion, but he is a Zionist who has security crimes.”
Finally, on Saturday, September 8, 2012, the Pastor was released from prison and allowed to return to his home and family under a strict order of silence and censorship by the government of Iran. He still remains in the country and it is unknown if he is being detained against his will or remains in Iran for the principals of his faith. Certainly, his re-arrest on Christmas Day makes it clear that he is still in the gun-sights of the Iranian regime.
Supporters of Pastor Nadarkhani remain fearful for his safety and this latest harassment by the authorities increases their concern. Although the Pator was released without comment once again on January 7, 2013, his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, remains in isolation in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison for the simple crime of defending his client. The lawyer’s health is in serious decline and he has also been refused medical care by the authorities.
It seems apparent that Pastor Nadarkhani is in grave danger while he continues to live in Iran. While we may admire his devotion to his faith and his principals, we must also call on the good citizens of the world to keep this courageous man in their thoughts. As long as the tyrants who run the Iranian Government know the world is watching, there is still hope for Pastor Nadarkhani and his family.