Beatings and solitary confinement are two of the tools being used by Iranian officials to pressure a Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani condemned for blasphemy to recant his faith, according to reports.
Iran has planned to execute Nadarkhani, but he remains alive because of the international furor created by the Islamic republic’s plan to destroy a man who says he never was a Muslim.
Compass Direct says the Church of Iran pastor who has been on death row since his blasphemy conviction in September 2010 “is in deteriorating health,” according to a member of Nadarkhani’s denomination, who requested anonymity.
Compass also reported this week that the information is sketchy because communication is very limited.
Aidan Clay, International Christian Concern’s Middle East specialist, says Nadarkhani is enduring harsh treatment.
“Recent reports indicate that Pastor Youcef has been struck by authorities during frequent interrogations and has been placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time,” Clay said.
Clay said Nadarkhani is also under continual pressure to recant his Christian faith.
“He has also reportedly been given materials aimed at discrediting the Bible and affirming Islam. The renunciation of faith is the only ground by which the court hopes to release Pastor Youcef,” Clay said.
Nadarkhani was sentenced to death after a Rasht, Iran, court declared him guilty of “leaving Islam,” in spite of the fact that Nadarkhani says he was never a Muslim.
However, Colorado journalist Jack Minor reported last week that a high-ranking Muslim cleric says that Nadarkhani’s claims of never following Islam are not enough.
Minor points out that Islam teaches that everyone on earth is born a Muslim.
“On page 28, in the introduction of a copy of the Quran, printed by Ansariyan Publications in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the translator, M.H. Shakir in the section ‘Islam and Muslims’ states, ‘In fact, every child that is born is a Muslim. It is the parents who make him a Jew, Christian or Hindu,'” Minor said.
“Based on this teaching, even if Nadarkhani had never visited a mosque a day in his life he is still considered a Muslim. Therefore, when he accepted Christ as his savior and became a Christian he left the Muslim faith whether he knew it or not,” Minor also reported.
Clay said the pastor’s faith is holding firm.
“Still, the use of physical and psychological torture has not been able to
persuade Youcef to [convert] to Islam. His faith remains as firm today as it
was from day one when he was arrested over two years ago,” Clay said.
Clay explaine that Nadarkhani’s ordeal is continuing because of the court’s appeal to Iran’s supreme leader.
“Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s verdict was expected last month after he appeared in an appeals court and refused to renounce his Christian faith. However, no verdict was given, but instead the court handed the decision over to Iran’s supreme leader and ultimate authority on Islam, Ayatollah Khamenei,” Clay said.
“As of now, the court is still waiting for the ayatollah’s ruling. The court
recently said that it will announce a verdict by mid-December if no ruling
is given by the ayatollah by the end of this month,” Clay said.
Clay also said that the international pressure on Nadarkhani’s behalf is working.
“There’s no doubt that international pressure has played an integral role in delaying Pastor Youcef’s verdict. Without the support of organizations like the ACLJ and Present Truth Ministries, it’s possible that Youcef would have
already been executed,” Clay said.
Clay adds that there are others in Iranian jails who are enduring similar treatment.
“Youcef is not the only one in an Iranian prison for following Christ. Behnam Irani, Mehdi Foroutan, Farshid Fathi, Noorollah Qabitizade, and others also sit behind bars. We must continue to be vigilant and faithful in prayer for all Christians and others, including Bahá’ís and many political activists, who are imprisoned unjustly in Iran,” Clay said.
Clay said that a final decision on Nadarkhani’s case could still come in December. But he added that Iranian authorities may carry out the death sentence even without the ruling of Ayatollah Khameini.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow says difficulties have come up for the Iranian prosecution of the Christian because the 34-year-old pastor didn’t fit the definition of an apostate according to Iranian law.
“Technically the death penalty hasn’t been overturned. The case was sent back … to review because there hasn’t been an execution for apostasy since 1990,” Sekulow said recently.
“Whether or not he was ever actually technically a Muslim under their version of Shariah law, and that’s based on the ayatollah’s writings and it (a conversion) has to happen between the ages of 15 and 19,” Sekulow said.
“Based on that the courts have determined that he was never a Muslim at the age of majority they call it. Because his parents were (Muslims) and his ancestors, then he would have to be given an opportunity to recant his faith,” Sekulow said.
CNN says the Iranian government now is claiming the story was “distorted,” and that Nadarkhani was charged with a series of violent crimes, although international ministry organizations say such charges were added to the case only in the last few weeks.
A spokesman for the State Department said officials are trying to protect Nadarkhani’s life.
“We are absolutely committed to winning Pastor Nadarkhani’s release even in light of the new charges,” the State Department spokeman said.