The fate of Christian pastor Yucef Nadarkhani hangs in the balance, with the Iranian Supreme Court endorsing his death penalty on apostasy charges and giving him an ultimatum to recant his faith, failing which he will be hanged.
Some Web sites have published articles that give a colorful account of his life, struggles with the Iranian establishment, the events leading up to his arrest in 2009 and the death sentence that looms over him now.
Here are a few details about his life
According to presenttruthmn.com, the 34-year-old Yucef Nadarkhani is from Rasht in the Gilan province of Iran. He is married and has two sons, Daniel, aged 9 and Yoel aged 7.
Most articles about him say that he converted to Christianity when he was 19 and for more than ten years, he worked as a pastor in a network of house churches in the region. Nadarkhani was previously imprisoned in December of 2006 on charges of apostasy and evangelism.However, on that ocassion, he was released two weeks later.
His struggles with the Iranian religious establishment took a decisive turn when he confronted a local school on changes in the educational system that required his sons to compulsorily read the Quran. The latest changes in rules had demanded that all children should be taught about Islam, including those from Christian families.
Following his protests at the school, the secret police arrested him and produced him before a political tribunal in Rasht, Iran on October 12, 2009.
Arrest of his Wife
Nadarkhani's wife, Fatemah Pasindedih, was arrested on June 18, 2010 and was also charged with apostasy. Though Fatemah was initially sentenced to life in prison, she was released on appeal later on.
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. However, the court also ordered an investigation to find if Nadarkhani had converted to Christianity from Islam as an adult.
“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.”
While it is technically legal in Iran to profess one's Christian faith, what has earned the 34-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.
Bloggers as well as mainstream media have vehementally criticized the Iranian action and several governments have condemned the way the country treats the religious minorities.
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.
Poland, which holds the EU chair currently, summoned Iran's Ambassador to Poland, Samad Ali Lakizadeh, to express anguish over the developments.
EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, has also called for the immediate and unconditional release of Nadarkhani.