Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a church leader from the Church of Iran denomination who is currently serving ain Evin prison in Tehran, ended a three week hunger strike on 13 October.
The pastoron 23 September to protest against his children being prohibited from continuing with their education, describing his actions in a letter to prison authorities as “the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned.” He also sought to draw attention to the plight of second generation Christian children who are being increasingly penalised by educational authorities who do not recognise their faith. Having garnered sufficient attention, the pastor ended his hunger strike, which had already had detrimental effects on his health, on 13 October.
On 23 September Pastor Nadarkhani’s 15 year-old son Yoel was informed he could not return to school because he had not completed the Islamic studies module. In addition, and despite a 2017 court ruling that had allowed him to continue school by attending Islamic studies classes in a non-participatory manner, the pastor’s older son Daniel, 17, was denied a school report card which would enable him to enrol in higher education.
Pastor Nadarkhani has campaigned for 11 years to secure the right to education for children from the Persian-speaking Christian community, including his own. Although, unlike many of their parents, the children of converts to Christianity are not arrested or imprisoned on account of their faith, they increasingly experience impediments to, and ultimately denial of, education.
Members of recognised religious minorities, including Christians, are normally exempt from attending Islamic studies classes. However, in a clear contravention of a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader in 2009 which stated that children born into a Christian family whose parents may be deemed apostate have the right to receive Christian religious education, these children are increasingly considered to be Muslims by the authorities.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW continues to call for an end to the practice of denying access to education on account of a child’s religious beliefs, as has been the case for Pastor Nadarkhani’s sons. Children should not be penalised because of their faith or that of their parents. Moreover, Pastor Nadarkhani himself should not be in prison for having adopted a religion or belief of his choice in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party. We reiterate our call for his release, and that of others from religious minority communities who are currently imprisoned on account of their faith.”
Note to editors:
1. Daniel’s casein CSW’s Faith and a Future Report (page 33).