IRLA Calls for Release of Iranian Pastor

Young pastor faces death for refusing to recant his Christian faith

The International Religious Liberty Association has added its voice to calls for Iran to release an Evangelical Christian pastor who faces execution for his faith. Youcef Nadarkhani appeared before an Iranian court this week and has been given the choice between recanting his Christian faith and being put to death for apostasy.

“Mr. Hadarkhani’s case highlights the relentless persecution that religious minorities face under this repressive Iranian regime,” says Dr. John Graz, IRLA secretary general. “We call on the international community to do all it can to intervene and forestall Mr. Hadarkhani’s execution.”

"It is unbelievable that in the 21st century someone can be put in jail for life or executed just because he has changed his religion," adds Dr. Graz. "Where is the basic respect for human dignity in this denial of a basic freedom by a state--the freedom of conscience?"

Thirty-two-year-old Naderkhani was a pastor of a 400-person Church of Iran congregation in the northern city of Rasht. Key to his fate has been the question of whether he converted to Christianity as an adult, thus contravening Iran’s strict apostasy laws. He was arrested in October 2009, tried and sentenced in September 2010, and in November 2010 he received a written verdict of his sentence for execution by hanging. He appealed, and although the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the verdict, it initiated an investigation into whether Hadarkhani actually converted from Islam as an adult.

 “The courage shown by Mr. Hadarkhani is absolutely incredible,” adds Dr. Graz. “His situation reflects the reality that there are millions of other people around the world today who are also subject to gross violations of basic human rights, and who must live and worship in constant fear for their lives. The IRLA is committed to being the voice for the voiceless, and to continuing the fight for freedom of conscience for all people, no matter what their faith tradition.” 

Mr. Hadarkhani's attorney has rejected recent claims by the Iranian state that his client is actually being sentenced for different crimes, pointing out that the only issue dealt with during Mr. Hadarkhani's trial and appeal has been charges relating to apostasy. [Bettina Krause/IRLA]