Pastor to die for rape, not for apostasy.
Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani refused to recant his faith at three successive court sessions in Rasht last week and now faces execution as an apostate.
But the regime this week suddenly shifted gears and indicated Nadarkhani was not facing execution for apostasy, but rather for the crimes of rape and extortion. Those charges had never been mentioned before but suddenly appeared in a Fars news agency story that accused the Western media of making up the apostasy tale.
The story attributed the new charges to "informed sources," but the Judiciary has not dismissed the Fars story as false. It has remained silent. However, a Supreme Court document issued in 2010 about his appeal lists only a single charge against him: apostasy.
The Fars story appeared after Nadarkhani's third refusal to recant triggered the death sentence and led to an outpouring of denunciations of the Islamic Republic. France, Germany, Britain, Poland (current president of the EU), the EU foreign policy office, and the United States (including the Republican speaker of the House, the highest Republican office-holder in the United States) were among the multitude of voices condemning the very idea of execution for apostasy.
Nadarkhani, 34, went to an appeals court in Rasht on September 25 in response to a summons, said his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. Court officials told him that he had three opportunities to renounce his faith and embrace Islam. The last of the three court sessions, on September 28, ended with Nadarkhani refusing for the third time to recant.
A Supreme Court ruling in June had overturned an earlier death sentence against Nadarkhani for apostasy, and ordered the lower court to conduct additional investigations to determine whether Nadarkhani was willing to renounce his Christian faith to avoid execution.
"Iran is one of the very few countries in the 21st Century where authorities would drag an individual before a court of law and force him to choose between his faith and his life," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Nadarkhani should not have to spend one more day in jail, let alone face execution."
Security forces initially arrested Nadarkhani, a member of the Church of Iran and pastor to a 400-member congregation in Rasht, in October 2009. In November 2010, a lower court sentenced Nadarkhani to death for "apostasy from Islam."
On September 22, 2010, Branch 11 of the Gilan Court of Appeals affirmed Nadarkhani's death sentence for apostasy, but in June 2011 the Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court for further investigation, ruling that Nadarkhani could not be executed if he had not been a Muslim after the age of maturity--15 years for males, according to Iranian law--and he repented.
The Supreme Court rejected arguments that apostasy was not a crime under Iran's laws simply because it is not codified in the Islamic Penal Code, and held that the crime is recognized in Sharia (Islamic law) and by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Nadarkhani's lawyer told Human Rights Watch that his client converted to Christianity at the age of 19, and that prior to that he did not consider himself a Muslim or an adherent of any religion.