Friday, November 11, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 143: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a sad case and sadder portent in Iran

The case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani of Iran has been in and out of headlines for a while.

An indication of what is going on can be had from the lead to the Wikipedia article on him:
Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani
Youcef Nadarkhani (born 1977) (first name also spelled Yousef, Youssef, or Yousof; last name also spelled Nadar-Khani or Nadar Khani) is an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to die in Tehran.[1][2] Initial reports, including a 2010 brief from the Iranian Supreme court, stated that the sentence was based on the crime of apostasy, renouncing his Islamic faith. Government officials later insisted that the sentence was instead based on alleged violent crimes, specifically rape and extortion.[3] The Iranian government has offered leniency if he will recant his Christianity.

Already, we can see that something is very wrong here, as we can see charges shifting and tacking from one thing to the next under the pressure of International scrutiny. Jordan Sekulow, in a Washington Post article, clarifies:
In June, the Iranian Supreme Court issued an order requiring the appeals court in Gilan province to conduct what is now being called a “retrial” in the press for, “further investigat(ion) to prove that from puberty (15 years) to 19 (Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani ) was not Muslim by his acquaintances, relatives, local elders, and Muslims he frequented. He must repent his Christian faith if this is the case. No research has been done to prove this, if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out.”

The “retrial” occurred September 25-28th. On reexamination, the appeals court determined that Nadarkhani was not a Muslim at the age of majority but that because of he abandoned the faith of his ancestors, he must recant his Christian faith or face execution. Nadarkhani refused to recant his faith and the trial concluded.

{UPDATE: A Fox News article of Oct 11, adds a very interesting cross reference:

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old pastor, was arrested in October 2009 and later sentenced to death for converting to Christianity.
His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, and religious rights organizations say Nadarkhani is facing possible execution for apostasy and for refusing to renounce his religion, contradicting reports by Iran state media that have indicated Nadarkhani was found guilty of rape, extortion and security-related crimes . . . . 

As of Friday, at least 39 members of Congress had signed a letter calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put pressure on Iranian authorities to release Nadarkhani, who, according to reports last week from Iranian state-funded Press TV, is now considered a security threat and previously operated a brothel. Judiciary Chief Mohammad-Javad Heshmati of Iran's Gilan Province told the station on Wednesday that no verdict had been reached and that an execution order had not yet been issued.
Nadarkhani, a pastor in the 400-member Church of Iran, has been held in that country's Gilan Province since October 2009, after he protested to local education authorities that his son was forced to read from the Koran at school. His wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, was also arrested in June 2010 in an apparent attempt to pressure him to renounce his faith. She was released in October 2010, according to Amnesty International.}

This pattern of obviously suspicious and probably false accusations of course reads very differently from an October 7th 2011 Farsnews Iranian news service report which asserts:
Nadarkhani, 32, was arrested on accusations of rape, corruption and security-related crimes, including extortion, in October 2009. He was given a death penalty after being convicted in a Gilan court last November. He further appealed his conviction to the Iranian Supreme Court, and his appeal trial began last Sunday in Gilan province.
By sharpest contrast with this set of official talking points, an October 10th article in the International Business Times recounts:
After being convicted of apostasy -- the crime of abandoning a religion -- Iranian courts gave Pastor Nadarkhani five chances to repent. If he converted to Islam, authorities told Nadarkhani that he would be free. Nadarkhani refused all five times.

"[Nadarkhani] was brought to court to repent for three days. He denied repentance on all three days," Nadarkhani's lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told the International Campaign for Human Rights.

"The Judge kept asking my client to say, 'I have renounced Christianity and I recognize Islam as rescinder of all other regions,' and he kept saying 'I won't say that.'" 

Last week, Iran denied that Nadarkhani was ever convicted of apostasy, and claimed that he had been found guilty of rape, conspiracy and Zionism.
"His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity," Gholomali Rezvani, the Gilan province deputy governor, told Fars news agency. "He is guilty of security-related crimes."

The new rape report was the first time the Iranian government has mentioned any charge other than apostasy. Additionally, the little information from inside the Iranian court rooms that has surfaced indicates that Nadarkhani would be released if he chose to repent and convert to Islam.
As the case garners more attention abroad, the rape allegation is a signal that Nadarkhani has become, to put it bluntly, a public relations disaster for Iran.

"We can be certain if the lies spread by Iran were true -- that Youcef was instead convicted of rape, extortion, and Zionism -- the court would not seek the advice of the Supreme Ayatollah," American Center for Law and Justice executive director Jordan Sekulow said Monday.

Apostasy is not officially part of Iran's legal code, but it is punishable under religious texts and the fatwas decreed by Ayatollah Khomeini. If Nadarkhani is executed for the crime, he will be the first person killed for apostasy in more than 20 years.

"The reality is, as a Christian you don't have the rights of other Iranians. The actions and the basic policy toward evangelicals go against the rhetoric that they use for the country," David Yeghnazar, the U.S. director of Iranian church organization Elam Ministries, told the IBTimes.
"Here we are in 2011 and we're talking about a man being killed for his beliefs. We need to ask Iran how they can be willing to break the charter they've signed and their constitution. The government must answer to the people," Yeghnazar said.
 It is already quite clear that the pastor is being tried for his life for his conscience and convictions, and that once this had raised an international outcry, the state has proceeded to smear him with other charges, to cover this up. 

But, there is more, if we are to follow up on hints above brought out further in the following report, for it seems the "apostasy" charge is also not only outrageous -- freedom of conscience and religion as well as the right to bear witness to one's convictions are plainly rights not a matter for the state's power-wielders to determine as they please -- but may be groundless in a very troubling way, as Jack Minor recounts:
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has caught the attention of the world after being convicted for leaving the Islamic faith, even though he says he has never been a Muslim. Nardarkhani, who is facing a possible death sentence has been caught in a catch 22 regarding Muslim teaching.

While Nadarkhani tells the world that he was never a Muslim that statement is contrary to Muslim teaching. According to Islam, everyone is born a Muslim. Thus, Nadarkhani or for that matter, any person who becomes a Christian or follows any other religion has “left Islam.”

On page 28, in the introduction of a copy of the Qur’an, 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.”

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.

The Gazette asked the Council on Arab Islamic Relations if Muslim teaching does in fact teach that everyone is born a Muslim. CAIR did not respond to our inquiries . . . .

Iranian Pastor Hormoz Shariet with Iran Alive Ministries, says many people in the West do not understand how dire the plight of Christians in Iran is. “Islamic law states that it is criminal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity and it is in fact punishable by death,” Shariet continued, saying it is common for revolutionary Guards to arrest a Christian and not notify the family. “They can’t have a lawyer, not even a formal charge. Sometimes they even get killed without a formal charge.”
Now, I am familiar with the underlying teaching of being born Muslim, and it is the reason why converts to Islam are sometimes described as reverting by Muslim proselytisers.  Indeed, on this, I recall a rhetorical flourish by a Black Muslim leader to the effect that if you just listen to someone breathing you will hear "All-aah." 

So, it is understandable indeed that, in the hands of extremists holding power, such a notion can be very dangerously abused indeed to imply that the already outrageous premise that one who finds his convictions changed from Islam is subject to a death penalty on in effect a charge of treason against the Islamic Ummah, is fed into the further notion that if one simply holds a different faith, that is prima facie evidence of such "apostasy" (especially if one's ancestors were -- or are claimed to have been -- Muslims at some point; on this, cf. the Afroz thesis about ancestral Afro-Caribbean people).

On all of the above and more, this case is therefore a very troubling indicator of the nature of the Iranian regime, and it underscores the seriousness of the increasing reports that it seems to be pushing apace towards nuclear weapons. 

Yet another troubling sign of our times. END

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