Iran said on Saturday that Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for rape, not for the crime of abandoning Islam.
Previous reports indicated that Nadarkhani was found guilty of apostasy because he converted to Christianity as a teenager. Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death by hanging for the crime, which is technically not in Iran's penal code but is a religious doctrine enforced by an official fatwa.
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.
However, a December 2010 court ruling issued and signed by Supreme Court judges Morteza Fazel and Azizoallah Razaghi mentions the religious charges against Nadarkhani and nothing more.
Mr. Youcef Nadarkhani, son of Byrom, 32 years old, married, born in Rasht in the state of Gilan, is convicted of turning his back on Islam, the greatest religion the prophesy of Mohammad at the age of 19, the document states.
He has often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity. He has been accused of breaking Islamic Law that from puberty (15 years according to Islamic law) until the age of 19 the year 1996, he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home.
During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim. During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir–olvasileh.
After the subpoena, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that the death penalty, on grounds of encouraging other Muslims to convert to Christianity, should be upheld.
The new rape report was the first time that 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.
[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 last week.
I said in my last defense that his execution is not an appropriate and legal action from the viewpoint of Sharia Law, our own laws, and international laws, and I believe that the court accepted my opinion, said Dadkhah. I hope the court will vote for his acquittal and he will be released in the coming week.
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.'
Nadarkhani, who used to lead a congregation of about 400 people, was first arrested in Rasht in 2009. He was found guilty of apostasy in 2010 and sentenced to death, a sentence that has been upheld after a series of appeals that reached as far as Iran's Supreme Court.
As the case slowly garners international attention, the rape allegation is a signal that Nadarkhani has become, to put it bluntly, a public relations disaster for Iran.
In what could prove to be Nadarkhani's last days, world leaders have finally condemned the death sentence and pushed for the pastor's release.
On Thursday, a day after the death sentence was upheld during the final appeals trial, President Barack Obama and the White House had harsh words for Iran, calling the sentence a violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory.
The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people, the White House Press Secretary 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. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.
A number of U.S. congressmen and Speaker of the House John Boehner, as well as Germany, the European Union and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, have also issued statements deploring the death sentence.
The increased attention is again casting a negative light on Iran, which has been verbally attacked by Western powers and even al-Qaida in recent weeks. Last month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his United Nations General Assembly address to attack the West for being more preoccupied with war and killing than with humanitarian disasters such as the famine in Somalia.
Is it acceptable that they call themselves the sole defender of freedom, democracy and human rights, while they militarily attack and occupy other countries? Ahmadinejad asked the General Assembly.
Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO's missiles, bombs and guns?
Like in Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah recently absolved a woman sentenced to ten lashes for driving a car, Iran needs to free Nadarkhani if its leaders' rhetoric is to be taken seriously. While Iran has given significant economic aid to Somalia, its stance on executions and freedom is rather hypocritical, at least compared to Ahmadinejad's speech.
No one has been executed for apostasy in Iran for more than 20 years, but the country has the second highest execution rate of any nation in the world besides China.There have been at least 400 executions in Iran so far this year, a quarter of which occurred in September.
Additionally, more than 200 people were arrested for their religious beliefs between June 2010 and January 2011, according to Elam Ministries, a UK-based church founded by Iranian Christians.