Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani refuses to recant at final court session, awaits verdict  28/09/2011

Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani refused the final opportunity to renounce his faith at the last hearing of his court case in Rasht, Gilan province, which took place today.  He had previously refused to renounce his faith during sessions held on 26 and 27 September.

At today's hearing, the pastor's lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, presented the final defence, however, the judges have yet to decide on Pastor Nadarkhani's future. Some sources close to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) indicate the judges could take up to a week to issue their final ruling and announce a timeframe for execution while others fear it could be announced and implemented within a much shorter period of time. There are also fears that the death sentence could be implemented without any official announcement.

Pastor Nadarkhani is facing the death sentence for apostasy (abandoning Islam), after being found guilty in September 2010 by the court of appeals in Rasht. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Iran on appeal, but the written verdict of the Supreme Court included provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani renounced his faith.

The court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, was asked by the Supreme Court to re-examine whether or not Pastor Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity.  In a session earlier this week, the court ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam as an adult prior to conversion, but nevertheless upheld the charge of apostasy because the pastor has Muslim ancestry.

In a statement released today, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “I deplore reports that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith. This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom. 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.”

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We welcome the Foreign Secretary's intervention.  We urge others in the international community to raise Pastor Nadarkhani's case with the Iranian authorities with the utmost urgency, and to seek the annulment of the death sentence against him. CSW continues to call for Pastor Nadarkhani's immediate and unconditional release.  The conviction and sentence are illegal under Iranian law and in violation of the covenants to which Iran is signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion and the freedom to change one's religion.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Notes to Editors:

1. CSW is asking those who wish to take action to email the Iranian embassy in their home country. Please click here for our appeal. 
2. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, of the 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 believed to have been due to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran. He was initially charged with protesting; however the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims. His lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent Iranian human rights defender, is also facing legal difficulties. On Sunday 3 July, a court in Tehran sentenced Mr Dadkhah to nine years in jail and a ten-year ban on practicing law or teaching at university for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime". He is currently appealing the sentence.
3. The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. However, using a loophole in Iran's constitution, the judges in Rasht based their original verdict on fatwas by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the “father” of Iran's revolution in 1979, and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and of Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran.
4. The use of fatwas as a basis for the verdict on Nadarkhani is provided for under Article 167 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that while judges have a duty to find a basis for their rulings within the legal code, “if such a basis does not exist, they must cite reliable Islamic sources or a valid fatwa from which they have drawn a judgment in order to issue a verdict. Judges may not refuse to hear cases or issue rulings only because the case before them is not covered in the legal code, or there may be shortcomings or conflicts in the law.”
5. Mohammed Ali Dadhkah is a founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, an Iranian organisation, along with Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.

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