Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old pastor from Rasht, about 750 miles northwest of Tehran, was arrested in October 2009 after he protested a government policy that required children, including his 8- and 9-year-old sons, to study the Quran in school. Youcef told school officials that the Iranian constitution allows for freedom of religious practice. As a result, secret police called him before a political tribunal and arrested him for protesting. The charges were later amended to apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. Youcef was tried on Sept. 21–22, 2010 by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death on Nov. 13 for apostasy.
The pastor was imprisoned in Lakan prison, where authorities have used various methods, including medication, to convert him back to Islam.
After Youcef refused to convert to Islam, his wife was arrested, put on trial without an attorney and sentenced to life in prison. She was later released after an attorney appealed her sentence. The Nadarkhanis’ children were cared for by a relative while they were both in prison.
Youcef was released Sept. 8, 2012 to much fanfare. But in a surprise move, authorities rearrested him on Christmas Day 2012, claiming he needed to complete 45 day still left in his original sentence.
Youcef Released, Again
Iranian officials re-arrested Youcef Nadarkhani on Christmas Day, stating that he still had portions of his three-year prison sentence to complete. However, he was released again on Jan. 7. He was ordered to report back to the prison in 30 days in order to complete some documentation. Yousef was released on bail on Sept. 8, 2012 having served 2 years and 11 months.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released Saturday, Sept. 8, after a trial where he was found guilty of evangelizing Muslims. Youcef was not charged with apostasy, or leaving Islam. He was sentenced to three years, which he had already served.
New Charges to Come?
Two reports came out this week: one stating that on July 4th, Youcef was told he would face new charges in September. The second report said that after a Russian Orthodox church patriarch wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader, he received a reply saying the death sentence against the Iranian pastor would be dropped. It seems that Youcef will face a new trial in September for crimes against national security. Lord willing, this also means the charges of apostasy from Islam have been dropped.
Will Youcef's Lawyer Be Sent to Prison?
The main defense lawyer for Youcef Nadarkhani was himself sentenced to nine years in jail for allegedly acting against national security. Human rights lawyer and defense attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah received the word while defending another of his clients in court. Dadkhah is also banned from teaching or practicing law for ten years.
It is unclear what will happen in Nadarkhani’s case if his lawyer is imprisoned. Dadkhah told the ACLJ that no other attorney will represent Nadarkhani out of fear of being imprisoned or disbarred themselves.
Iranian Government: Nadarkhani Offended Islam
An Iranian envoy has denied an execution order was issued for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, but revealed a list of charges against the evangelical Christian that allegedly make him guilty of "offending Islam." The envoy said Nadarkhani was inviting juveniles into his home, without their parent's permission, to preach Christianity. He also claimed Nadarkhani converted his basement into a church without the government's permission. He also said that in preaching Christianity, Nadarkhani was offending Islam, a serious charge that shows the true reason why his case is so concerning to the government.
Youcef Again Pressured to Recant
VOM contacts say the chief justice in Gilan province told Youcef's lawyers last week (Jan. 16, 2012) that if Youcef repents, he will be released. Youcef told his attorneys repenting means leaving Christianity to return to Islam. He said it was impossible for him to "return" to Islam, since he was never Muslim.
Our contacts write, "Because of your prayers and concerns, the regime is afraid to issue a negative verdict, and yet they do not want to release him..."
Please continue to surround Youcef with your prayers. Pray that the chief justice will have a change of heart.
Nardarkhani to Remain in Prison
Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, will remain in prison for at least one more year. The presiding judge ordered authorities to keep Youcef in prison, using whatever means necessary to force him to recant his Christian faith and convert to Islam. VOM contacts believe the order’s intent is to keep Youcef in prison for an extended period so that the international Christian community will forget about him. The Iranian courts may then feel free to carry out the death sentence.
Verdict Referred to Supreme Leader
VOM contacts report that Pastor Nadarkhani's verdict has been delayed again by the court in Gilan province. The reason for the delay, according to his attorney, is that they have referred the case to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is highly unusual for the court to ask for the legal opinion of the Supreme Leader.
Please continue to pray that Youcef will be pardoned. Pray also for his wife, family and those supporting him.
Youcef Still Needs Prayers
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remains in prison awaiting re-examination of his case. This is likely to take place sometime in September. Until then, it is critical that we continue to pray for him. Our contacts report that he is standing firm and strong in his faith, and is even encouraging those who are discouraged, exhorting them to trust in the Lord.
Supreme Court Sends Case Back to Lower Court
VOM’s contacts are reporting a new development in the case of Youcef Nadarkhani. His lawyer has finally received the written ruling from the Supreme Court. According to one source, the Supreme Court has agreed with the death sentence verdict. However, the court “pointed out procedural flaws and is asking the lower court to re-examine the case.” The judges would like clarification as to whether Youcef was truly a Muslim prior to becoming a Christian. If Youcef is determined to have been a “true” Muslim, and he does not recant his Christian faith, the death sentence will stand.
Death Sentence Annulled Temporarily
On Sunday, Iran's supreme court has overturned a death sentence handed down to Youcef Nadarkhani.
"The supreme court has annulled the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in Rasht, asking the accused to repent," Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said.
The court’s decision will lift the death sentence only if Youcef recants his Christian faith. It is not clear what will happen if he does not recant.
Youcef’s lawyer was also sentenced on Sunday to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practicing law or teaching at university for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime".
Death Sentence Upheld
The Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Pastor Youcef. He has been in prison since October 2009, and the appeal of his death sentence was rejected by the Iranian Supreme Court on June 28, 2011. He is to be executed by hanging. If the death sentence is carried out, it will be the first court-ordered execution of a Christian in Iran in 20 years.