Church urge Iran govt to stop Pastor Nadarkhani's execution

Published 10 October 2011  |  
The Indian Church has joined many international voices to condemn the conviction of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who is facing execution for refusing to convert to Islam from Christianity.

Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for apostasy and was sentenced to death under Islamic Sharia law. Before his arrest, the 32-year old pastor led a congregation of about 400 Christians in Rasht, a major business centre in northwest Iran.

The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), in a letter to the Embassy of Iran in New Delhi, expressed concern over the arrest and scheduled execution of Nadarkhani, and appealed for his release.

NCCI is the apex body of the Protestant and Orthodox churches in India.

"Pastor Nadarkhani has been repeatedly persecuted by the Iranian authorities for his Christian religion and his refusal to renounce his Christian faith," said the letter signed by the general secretary, Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad.

Gaikwad appealed that the Iranian authorities do not subject Nadarkhani to torture or other ill-treatment, and that he will be given access to family and any necessary medical attention.

While pleading to pursue all avenues to repeal the death sentence of Nadarkhani, Gaikwad also highlighted the continued persecution of religious minorities which he said was also a matter of grave concern.

"We urge to you that Christians and other minorities will be allowed to practice their choice of religion in Iran," he said.

He noted that the Iranian government has a legal obligation to end the human rights crisis by ensuring citizens rights were guaranteed.

If Pastor Nadarkhani's death penalty is carried out, it will be the first official hanging for apostasy and conversion to Christianity in the last twenty years.

The United States earlier condemned the conviction and said the pastor had "done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for people."

"That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations," a statement said.

"A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens."

Nadarkhani became a pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran after converting from Islam at the age of 19.

After his arrest in 2009, the pastor was spared by a Supreme Court appeal ruling in July, but was again condemned to death after the case was heard again at a court in his home town of Gilan.

In order to avoid the death penalty, Nadarkhani was being asked to recant his beliefs and convert to Islam. In appeal hearings, however, the pastor has refused to give up his Christian faith.

Several church bodies and religious figures across the world have condemned the death sentence of Pastor Nadarkhani.

"Forcing anybody to renounce his or her faith is an utter violation of our universal human and religious values, and renunciation of God," said Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday.

The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been campaigning for Nadarkhani's release and has facilitated in the sending of more than 19,000 emails from supporters to the Iranian embassy in the UK.

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