As his family prayed that a miracle will spare the life of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian state-controlled media has announced that he isn’t scheduled for execution for apostasy after all.
“His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity,” the deputy governor of the Gilan province, Gholomali Rezvani, told Fars, the semi-official state news agency. “He is guilty of security-related crimes.”
Then another report claimed that the Christian pastor is actually facing the death sentence for rape and extortion.
A third report published on the Iranian government’s English-language website claimed that Nadarkhani was a Zionist and an extortionist, had been running a brothel and had a history of violent crimes.
Such bizarre claims appear to be an attempt by the Iranian government to save face amid international uproar that Iran is on the verge of hanging a native Christian pastor to death for refusing to renounce his Christian faith — as his charges have read ever since he was arrested in 2009.
In a ruling from the Iranian Supreme Court, translated into English by the American Center for Law and Justice, the pastor was sentenced to death for “turning his back on Islam” and “converting Muslims to Christianity.” The ruling also alleges that he also participated in Christian worship by holding home church services and baptizing converts, thus breaking Islamic Law forbidding Muslims to leave Islam.
The Obama administration condemned the conviction and planned execution, reported political reporter Elisha Maldonado for the International Business News.
Nadarkhani “has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for people,” a White House spokesman said in a statement. “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.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory group appointed by the president and Congress to monitor religious freedom around the world, expressed a “deep concern” for Nadarkhani, who is the head of a network of Christian house churches in Iran, CNN reported.
Commission chairman Leonard Leo said Nadarkhani “is being asked to recant a faith he has always had. Once again, the Iranian regime has demonstrated that it practices hypocritical barbarian practices.”
The White House said Iran would prove its “utter disregard” for religious freedom if they carried out the Iranian pastor’s death sentence, saying the death sentence comes “amid a harsh onslaught against followers” of other minority faiths in Shiite-Muslim-majority Iran, including Zoroastrians, Sufis, and Bahais.
“We continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran,” the State Department said.
The Iranian government’s website www.presstv.com, published the following statement Saturday:
An Iranian official says Youssef Nadar-Khani, an Iranian-born convert to Christianity, is guilty of security charges and running a brothel but his verdict has not been finalized.
The Iranian official added that Nadar-Khani is not a prisoner of conscience and his crime is not related to his religion “because in our country no one is executed for his faith but he (Nadar-Khani) is a Zionist and has committed security crimes.”
The Iranian official said that as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was the last prophet we believe a person turning to another religion will be the one to incur a major loss as God will not accept his excuses.
“This Islamic country (Iran) does not punish [those] choosing another religion rather it is God [that will reprimand],” Fars News Agency quoted Rezvani as saying.
The Iranian official added that Nadar-Khani had been sentenced to death for committing security crimes but his verdict was not final yet.
Western media have used the case of Nadar-Khani, the rapist and extortionist from Gilan, whom they claim was a convert to Christianity and priest, to intensify their propaganda campaign and mount pressure against Iran.
Iran has refuted allegations of violating human rights, stressing that Nadar-Khani has a history of committing violent crimes and that he did not receive the death penalty for religious beliefs.
Nadarkhani was first sentenced to death in November 2010 but was given an opportunity avoid the death penalty if he would recant his belief in Jesus and return to Islam.
The case before the Supreme Court stated that the pastor’s parents were Muslim, but that research was being done to determine if Nadarkhani had ever been a Muslim. According to reports, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, will have to sign off on the execution.