Why was Pastor Nadarkhani arrested and sentenced to death?

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran denomination was arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009, soon after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children in Iran, which he felt was unconstitutional.

He was charged, tried, found guilty of apostasy, and sentenced to death. Whilst in prison he was put under pressure to renounce his faith in order to have the death sentence lifted. On 8 September 2012 Pastor Nadarkhani was released and aquitted of apostasy, but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims.

LATEST: Pastor Nadarkhani is still alive

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is refuting claims that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been executed in Iran.

Reports alleging that Pastor Nadarkhani had been hanged initially surfaced last week and have resurfaced today. Pictures purporting to show a man being hanged are being attributed as evidence of the pastor’s death. However, the man in these pictures is not Pastor Nadarkhani, and CSW’s sources have confirmed he is still alive. 08/03/2013


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News and analysis

Iran: Online rumours are untrue - Pastor Nadarkhani still alive 08/03/2013

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani released, imprisoned lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah’s health deteriorates 07/01/2013

Iran: More Christians jailed in annual campaign of repression 31/12/2012

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani jailed again 25/12/2012

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani released, aquitted of apostasy 08/09/2012

>>> Read more on Iran

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Pastor Nadarkhani's case: Timeline

7 January 2013 - Pastor Nadarkhani is released from jail following his reincarceration on Christmas Day. CSW call on the Iranian government to uphold the rule of law and allow the country’s religious minorities to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Christmas Day 2012 - Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to jail on the orders of the director of Lakan Prison, who claimed he had been released several days too early due to the insistence of his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah. The pastor has now been return to prison to serve the remainder of this time and to complete paperwork that allegedly had not completed during his release in September.

Sept 2012 - Pastor Nadarkhani is due to appear in court to face new charges that are reportedly intended to justify his sentence. Their exact nature remains unclear; however,  while earlier reports suggesting he was being charged with “banditry" and “extortion” have not been confirmed, there is anxiety that the new charges may be linked to crimes against national security. Iran’s new penal code still allows judges to refer to Shari’a law and authoritative fatwas to sentence defendants to death for apostasy, and according to article 287, anyone deemed to have committed a crime against national security could be charged with "spreading corruption on earth" and be handed the death sentence.  This gives even greater cause for concern for Pastor Nadarkhani’s forthcoming court case.

April 2012 - Pastor Nadarkhani spends his birthday in prison in Rasht while thousands of Christians around the world join in prayer for his release. St Paul’s Cathedral in London dedicates one of its services to Pastor Nadarkhani. The 12.30 Eucharist on his birthday was marked by prayers for his freedom, and for freedom for others like him who are persecuted in Iran.

October 2011 - A final written verdict by the court was expected on Monday 10 October, but after several weeks of intense international scrutiny, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani’s death sentence for apostasy has been referred to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, the highest political and religious authority in the country. Referral of court cases to the Supreme Leader is rare, and will almost certainly cause a further delay to the issuing of the written verdict from the trial.

As we wait for the formal verdict to come through, Pastor Nadarkhani’s life is in the balance. No conclusions should be drawn on this case until this verdict is received.

September 2011 - Pastor Nadarkhani was put on trial again from 25 to 28 September. In a session on 25 September, the court in Rasht ruled that the pastor had not practiced Islam as an adult, but still upheld the charge of apostasy because of the his Muslim ancestry. From 26- 28 September he appeared in court three times, and was asked each day to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the apostasy charge and a lifting of the death sentence. He refused each time. On 28 September, Pastor Nadarkhani’ lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkah, presented the final defense.

The conviction and sentence are illegal under Iranian law, since the penal code does not specify death for apostasy. They also violate article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief. Moreover, the conviction and sentence are in violation of international covenants to which Iran is signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion and the right to change one’s religion.

July 2011 – A written verdict was received by Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer; however, it was dated June 2011. Contradicting a verbal verdict received earlier, the written verdict upheld the death sentence , but included a provision for its annulment if Pastor Nadarkhani renounced his faith. The Supreme Court also asked the court in Rasht to re-examine whether or not Pastor Nadarkhani had been practicing Islam as an adult prior to adopting Christianity.

June 2011 - The appeal was heard by the Supreme Court of Iran and verbal notification of a lifting of the death sentence was given.

December 2010: Nadarkhani’s lawyer filed an appeal.

November 2010: the written verdict from the September trial was received by Pastor Nadarkhani’s legal team, confirming the verbal notification of a death sentence for apostasy,

September 2010 - Pastor Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of apostasy (abandoning Islam) by the Assize court of Gilan province in Rasht, and received verbal notification of a death sentence, despite the fact that death for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. The court used a loophole in Iran’s constitution, basing their verdict on fatwas (religious rulings) by Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the “father” of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in the country

October 2009 - Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested, soon after questioning of the Muslim monopoly of the religious instruction for children of Iran, which he felt was unconstitutional.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

For more information, please call 0845 456 5464, email admin@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk