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Iran frees imprisoned Christian pastor jailed for apostasy: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2013 p 7 September 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Yousef Nadarkhani

An Iranian court acquitted Yousef Nadarkhani of apostasy from Islam this week, permitting the Christian pastor to return home after three years imprisonment.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that at an 8 September 2012 hearing, a court in Rasht in Iran’s Gilan province on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea court overturned Yousef Nadarkhani’s 2010 conviction for apostasy, finding him guilty instead of proselytizing Muslims.  The court sentenced him to three years imprisonment for seeking to evangelize Muslims, but ordered he be released for time served.

Born in a non-practicing Muslim family, Mr. Nadarkhani (35) converted to Christianity as a young man and for the past ten years has been the pastor of a network of house churches in Rasht.   In 2009, Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested and brought before a political tribunal on 12 October 2009 after he complained that new government regulations requiring that his two sons, Daniel (10) and Yoel (8) be instructed in Islam in school violated the Iranian constitution’s guarantee of the free practice of religion.

Mr. Nadarkhani was brought to trial on 21-22 September 2010 before the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal. On 13 November 2010 the court handed down a guilty verdict and ordered he be hanged.  The third chamber of the Iranian Supreme Court in Qom on 28 June 2011 upheld the conviction for apostasy and the death penalty, but stayed execution pending an investigation by the trial court to determine when Mr. Nadarkhani had left Islam.

In October 2011 the trial court wrote to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, requesting his opinion as to how to proceed in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. Last month it was announced the local court would review the proceedings in light of Sharia law precedents and investigate at what age Mr. Nadarkhani had left the Muslim faith.

Each of Islam’s five major schools of jurisprudence call for the death penalty for those who leave Islam for another faith. However Islamic law distinguishes between apostasy of an adult and a child. Iran’s proposed Islamic Penal Law also divides apostates into two categories: parental and innate. Innate apostates were those whose parents were Muslim, made a profession of Islam — the Shahada — as an adult and then left the faith, while parental apostates were those born in non-Muslim families, converted to Islam as an adult, and then left the faith.

Iranian law is unclear as the punishment for apostasy, but the proposed Article 225-7 of the Islamic Penal Law states the “Punishment for an innate apostate is death,” while Article 225-8 allows a parental apostate three days to recant their apostasy. If they continued in their unbelief, “the death penalty would be carried out.”

The push to impose penal sanctions on apostates from Islam comes amidst a rise in conversions to Christianity in Iran.  Approximately 200,000 or one percent of Iran’s population, belong to officially sanctioned groups that have historic ties to the region such as the Armenian, Assyrian and Catholic Churches.

However, the number of Protestant Christians is unclear.  In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran.  “Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation,” reports Elam Ministry –  a British based Christian ministry to Persians.

News of the release of Mr. Nadarkhani was greeted with joy by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), one of the principle organizations in the West that had championed his cause. CSW chief executive, Mervyn Thomas said they were “delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani’s release after a long incarceration. We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law.”

“While we rejoice at this wonderful news, we do not forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue campaigning until all of Iran’s religious minorities are able to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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