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IRAN: Written confirmation of death sentence

13 Jul 2011

A written verdict from Supreme Court judges confirms that the death sentence has been upheld.

Written confirmation that Pastor Nadarkhani still faces execution

The Supreme Court of Iran has issued a written verdict upholding the death sentence for apostasy for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, which his lawyer received earlier this week.  The written ruling confirms a verbal notification earlier this month that the appeal had been unsuccessful.

The Supreme Court has asked the court in Rasht to re-examine a few procedural flaws in the case, but has ultimately given local judges a free hand to decide whether to release, execute or retry Mr Nadarkhani in October.  Since the court in Rasht had based its original verdict on fatwas by such important religious figures as Ayatollahs Khomeini, the "father" of Iran's revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran, the Supreme Court may have been reluctant to overturn the verdict for fear of inviting controversy, even though there is no death sentence for apostasy in Iranian civil law. The decision also contradicts article 23 of the Iranian constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief. 

Charges altered after arrest

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a leader in the evangelical Church of Iran denomination, was arrested in his home city of Rasht on 13 October 2009 while attempting to register his church.  His arrest is thought to have come after he questioned the Muslim monopoly on religious instruction for Iranian children.  He was initially charged with protesting, however the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims.

Appeal unsuccessful

In September 2010 Pastor Nadarkhani was found guilty of apostasy, and a death sentence was delivered verbally in court, even though there is no such sentence codified in Iranian civil law. Written confirmation of the sentence was delivered on 13 November 2010 by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal.  Since then he has been held in Lakan Prison.
The pastor's lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, filed an appeal on 5 December 2010, but has now been informed unofficially that the appeal was unsuccessful; although so far there has been no official notification of this failure.  Refuting recent news reports that the sentenced had been annulled, Iranian church sources claim that the Supreme Court has made execution conditional on the pastor recanting his faith.
Pastor Nadarkhani had been imprisoned previously in December 2006, on charges of apostasy and evangelism, but was released two weeks later in January 2007.

Senior Shia cleric criticises 'inadequate' suppression of churches

In May, Ayatollah Mesbah Yadzi, a high-profile cleric in Iran, declared at a meeting with the heads of the Islamic Propagation Centre of Qom that the authorities had not successfully stemmed the growth of Christian house churches, despite its massive efforts to do so.  Ayatollah Yadzi underlined the need for better discipline and proper supervision of those authorities involved in the suppression of churches.  The Ayatollah suggested that the government set up a central system to monitor and coordinate the suppression of churches.

CSW concerned about implications for Iran's Christians

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, "This is clearly a devastating outcome for Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and the Church of Iran network, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.  CSW condemns the decision to uphold this verdict in the strongest possible terms.  The death sentence for the charge of apostasy is not codified in Iranian law.  The ruling has deeply worrying implications for all Christians in Iran, and is yet another indicator of the regime's disregard for basic human rights and freedoms.  Of particular concern is the fact that the Iranian regime often enacts death sentences without advance notice to prisoners' families, lawyers or even the prisoners themselves.  Consequently, the international community must urgently apply pressure on the Iranian regime to rescind this unjust decision.

Freedom to change one's religion is a fundamental right which Iran pledged to uphold when it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Iran must therefore be urged adhere to its commitments under international law."

CSW continues to press for religious freedom in Iran

In June CSW took part in parliamentary seminar on human rights in Iran organised by the UK Bahai community, and drew particular attention to the government crackdown on house churches.   Earlier this year, CSW spoke at the European Parliament  along with Mansour Borji, an Iranian pastor from the Iranian Church  in London. CSW briefed MEPs and urged them that action must be taken if Christians and other religious minorities in Iran are to be properly protected.

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