- Youcef Nadarkhani ‘put to death by Iranian court’
- He says: ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?’
Last updated at 9:28 PM on 22nd February 2012
A Christian pastor who converted from Islam is to be put to death for leaving Islam following the ruling of an Iranian trial court, it was reported today.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, was arrested over two years ago on charges of apostasy, and has now been put to death by an Iranian court for refusing to renounce his Christianty, according to the pastor’s legal team.
The father-of-two had defied a request by the Gilan provincial court, in Rasht, Iran, to repent, and now faces death by hanging.
If the execution goes ahead it would be the first Christian to be officially executed in Iran for religious reasons in 20 years.
The married father-of-two was detained in his home city of Rasht in October 2009, while attempting to register his church.
Supporters of the pastor say he was arrested after questioning the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.
Critics have said the execution could be seen as a form of defiance at the sanctions being forced on Iran in the row over its nuclear agenda.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), told Fox News: ‘This is defiance. They want to say they will carry out what they say they will do.
‘The world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death because of his faith.
‘This one case is not just about one execution. We have been able to expose the system instead of just letting one man disappear, like so many other Christians have in the past.’
Church officials say there may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in the country and that Iran’s leadership is concerned about the spread of Christianity.
Nadarkhani was initially charged with protesting, but charges against him were later changed to ‘apostasy’ – or abandoning Islam – and ‘evangelising Muslims’, which both carry the death sentence.
He was later tried and found guilty of apostasy in September 2010, and sentenced to death by the court in the city of Rasht.
In June this year the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death sentence but asked the lower court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity.
Nadarkhani told the court during his first hearing on Sunday that he had no intention of returning to Islam.
He said: ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?’
However, the court said that because Nadarkhani has Islamic ancestry, he therefore must ‘recant his faith in Jesus Christ’.
When the court ordered him to ‘return to the religion of your ancestors – Islam’, Nadarkhani replied: ‘I can not.’
Jason DeMars, of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, said: ‘This law dictates what should be done with apostates, depending on what type of apostasy has been committed.
Mr DeMar added that section 6.225 of Iran’s controversial legislation says that if a person’s parents were Muslims at the time they were trying to conceive a child, and that converts to another religion and renounces Islam, he or she would be a national apostate.
He said: ‘The death sentence is the penalty for national apostate, but after the verdict is pronounced, he or she will be commanded to repent of what he or she has done
‘If he refuses to repent, he will be killed.’
The written verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision also included a provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani recanted his faith.
Although the court found that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult, the court said he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.
Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, told the court that the repeated demand for his client to recant his Christian faith violated Iranian law and its constitution.
The last Iranian Christian convert from Islam executed by the Iranian government was Assemblies of God Pastor Hossein Soodmand in 1990.
However, several other Christians, including at least six Protestant pastors, are reported to have been assassinated in Iran by unknown killers in recent years.