Today, an Iranian Christian pastor’s life hangs in the balance as he sits in a prison in Iran.
Yousef Nadarkhani was handed a death sentence in 2009 after questioning the Muslim teachings that his children were receiving at school. While that was the original charge, the Iranian government now claims that Nadarkhani illegally converted from Islam to Christianity as well. The list of alleged crimes is growing.
Despite signing the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Iran does not recognize the freedom to change religion. Sadly, worldwide religious persecution, specifically against Christians, has increased in recent years, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
With all the international attention, Iran could try to make an example out of the pastor by executing him to prove that anything but Islam will not be tolerated. But the outcome is still uncertain.
Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall notes that “because these individuals often suffer and die for their faith unknown to the rest of the world, the Iranian regime’s persecution of Nadarkhani is a witness we should heed on their behalf.”
Marshall explains the state of religious freedom—or lack thereof—under the Iranian regime in a McClatchy column this week:
Since 1999, Iran has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a country of particular concern because of its disregard for religious freedom. Although the Iranian constitution lists Christianity as a “protected religion” that is due respect, Christians—along with other religious minorities—experience quite the opposite. Religious minorities in Iran report “government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on their religious beliefs,” according to State’s International Religious Freedom Report, released in September. Since June 2010, “more than 250 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested,” USCIRF adds….
Religious freedom is the birthright of every man and woman. Yet more than 60 years after nations around the world affirmed this truth, too few governments around the world acknowledge it. And far too many people never have enjoyed it.
The international community has become increasingly aware of the conditions inside Iran, and at least in this case, the pressure being brought to bear on Iran’s regime might be having an impact. Iran’s Supreme Court has ordered a retrial for Nadarkhani and sought the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s spiritual leader and highest authority.
This move was unexpected, according to Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
“I don’t believe this would’ve ever reached the level of Khamenei without the media attention and outpouring of support we’ve seen,” said Sekulow on FoxNews.com, also noting that “Iran is feeling the pressure” of the growing international community in support of Nadarkhani.
The plight of Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates how far the world has to go in terms of religious freedom, and advocates of freedom have a great opportunity now to speak out against this blatant persecution.
This case is one more reminder that Iran continues to be a horrible threat to anyone unwilling to bow down to Islam. The battle for freedom must endure.