Pastor Nadarkhani has repeatedly refused to renounce his faith
Supporters of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani fear that he could be executed at any time after a court reportedly issued its final verdict, ordering that he be put to death for apostasy.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been heavily involved in the case, said that he was told on Monday 20 February by Mr Nadarkhani’s legal team that the final execution order had been made.
Once this has been officially confirmed, his lawyers would, according to Iranian law, have a final opportunity to object. But Iran has previously carried out death sentences without notification, as happened in the case of Christian pastor Hossein Soodmand in 1990.
Pastor Nadarkhani was confirmed alive as of early Sunday (26 February).
The White House and the US State Department both issued strongly-worded statements condemning the reported execution order and calling for the pastor’s release.
Following reports of the court’s decision – and international backlash against it – the Iranian government said that no execution order had been announced, and repeated their earlier assertion that Pastor Nadarkhani was not being held for apostasy but for rape and “other crimes”.
It is feared that as Iran comes under mounting international pressure over its nuclear agenda, the pastor’s case may become embroiled in wider political negotiations. The number of executions in Iran has increased significantly in the last month as the country suffers crippling sanctions.
Pastor Nadarkhani was formally sentenced to death for apostasy in November 2010. At anappeal hearing last September, he repeatedly refused to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the charge of apostasy and lifting of the death sentence.
The court then referred the case to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, in October, but he has not issued a ruling. Now, only he and Sadegh Larijani, head of the Iranian Judiciary, have the authority to stop the pastor’s execution.
That the Iranian authorities will not execute Pastor Nadarkhani. Pray that he will instead be set free and allowed to resume his life in peace.
That the rights of religious minorities to practice their faith freely in Iran will be upheld, as per the country’s commitments to international agreements.