Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Imagine trying to change Iran

To understand the Islamic world, try and get your head around this report from Open Doors:

A pastor in Iran found guilty of leaving Islam is awaiting the outcome of a judicial investigation into his spiritual background to see if he will be executed or forced to become a Muslim.

According to other Christian groups with ties in Iran, a court-ordered investigation will take place this autumn to determine whether Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, 34, was a Muslim as a teenager before he became a Christian at 19.

On 22 September 2010, a regional court sentenced Nadarkhani, who leads a 400-strong house church movement in Rasht, to death by hanging for 'converting to Christianity' and 'encouraging other Muslims to convert to Christianity'. His lawyer appealed the verdict, in part because Nadarkhani said he had never been a Muslim and so could not be found guilty of abandoning Islam.

The court issued a written response to the appeal on 12 June, upholding the death penalty but ordering the investigation. Even if the investigation releases him from the charge of apostasy, it is likely the charge of evangelising Muslims will still carry a lengthy prison sentence, sources said.

The charges against Nadarkhani stem from a complaint he made to local officials over a government decision to teach Islam to all children at school, regardless of their respective religions. He was called to appear before a tribunal on 12 October 2009 and arrested the same day. He has been held in government custody since then.

A group that works with Christians in Iran said officials have repeatedly used pressure tactics to force Nadarkhani to become a Muslim, including threatening to seize his children and arresting his wife on apostasy charges. On 18 June 2010, officials found Fatemah Pasindedih guilty of the charges, but her conviction was overturned on appeal, and she was released in October.

Last year the Iranian government started a series of crackdowns on evangelical Christians. According to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the arrests started in June 2010, and by April 2011 more than 250 Christians had been 'arbitrarily arrested' throughout Iran.

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