Christian pastor Yucef Nadarkhani, who is facing execution in Iran on apostasy charges, could be put to death any time as he has refused to recant his Christian faith in court three times so far this week.
His lawyer has reportedly said Nadarkhani has 95 per cent chance of acquittal, but activist organizations fear for the worst and the world at large keeps putting pressure on Iran to revoke the sentence.
Nadarkhani, who was convicted of apostasy in 2010 and is kept in a prison in the city of Rasht, has refused to abandon his faith publicly in a court.
If he continues to refuse, he could be executed any time from Thursday onwards, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide in its Web site.
Nadarkhani, the 32-year-old Christian pastor with a wife and two children, was arrested in October 2009 while he was trying to register his church. He was found guilty of apostasy, or abandoning Islam, and was sentenced to death.
According to the United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nadarkhani was sentenced in September 2010 and, in November 2010, received a written verdict with a sentence of execution by hanging.
He appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence in June this year. But the court also ordered an investigation to find if Nadarkhani had converted to Christianity from Islam as an adult.
Despite finding that he had not converted as an adult, an Iranian court this week demanded that Mr. Nadarkhani recant his Christian faith because of his Muslim ancestry, says USCIRF.
“Despite the finding that Mr. Nadarkhani did not convert to Christianity as an adult, the court continues to demand that he recant his faith or otherwise be executed,” said USCIRF chair Leonard Leo. “The most recent court proceedings are not only a sham, but are contrary to Iranian law and international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.”
The Guardian lashed out at Iran in an editorial, saying the proposed hanging of Nadarkhani was an outrage. There is a pure and ghastly theatricality at the heart of this cruel drama which goes to the heart of religious freedom, the paper wrote. The editorial points out that Nadarkhani is not a murderer, traitor or a drug smuggler but a man who professes his faith and is unwilling to convert to another.
The sentence against Mr Nadarkhani shames Iran, the paper said, adding that torture, pogrom, or the occasional judicial murder of religious minorities is a way of failing regimes to appeal to the more revolting instincts of the people they hold down.
While it is technically legal in Iran to profess one's Christian faith, what has earned the 32-year-old father of two the death sentence is the charge that he is an apostate -- one who renounced his Muslim faith to embrace another religion. The accusation is that he was raised as a Muslim, but was converted to Christianity.
The seemingly final verdict in the case was given by the Iranian Supreme Court last week when it pronounced that Nadarkhani will be hanged if he did not recant his Christian faith.
Meanwhile, people of all faiths have taken to social media to champion religious freedom and calling for efforts to save Nadarkhani's life. ... even as a Mulsim woman, I think what Iran is doing in so many cases is so utterly wrong. This is not ISLAM, this is a country that uses fear to try and keep a people in line, said Hollie Pollard, on Facebook.
Poland, which holds the EU chair currently, summoned Iran's Ambassador to Poland Samad Ali Lakizadeh to express anguish over the developments.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Poland has conveyed expressions of great concern about another example of Iranian courts’ failure to uphold fundamental rights, including civil and political liberties, which authorities in Teheran are obliged to comply with under international agreements, including the Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran which prohibits persecutions of believers of other religions.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has also called for the immediate and unconditional release of Nadarkhani.
“I urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect its international human rights commitments, including on freedom of religion or belief, and strongly appeal to Iran not to sentence Pastor Nadarkhani to death,” Ashton said.