Iranian pastor faces death for 'thought crime'

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MIDDLE EAST | PERSECUTION

Photo via svali.ru
Iranian pastor faces death for 'thought crime'

A Christian pastor in Iran is being sentenced to death for what is being called a "thought crime," reports Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

There are others in his assembly who are imprisoned, and his own wife is being threatened with life imprisonment. They have two young children.

According to web-blogs following the case, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, responsible for one of the largest Protestant communities in Iran, "has been" sentenced to death for apostasy Saturday, October 2 by the 11th Chamber of The Assize Court of the province of Gilan.

This information was given to his lawyer Nasser Sarbaz. It was communicated to him verbally, news sources said.

Pastor Youcef was transferred after the verdict from Lakan prison to another place of detention, which is under the direction of the Political Police of The Islamic Republic.

Pastor Youcef was arrested in October 2009 for protesting against a decision of the Corporation to impose Koranic teaching to his son.

Iran adheres, at least officially, to the Charter of Human Rights and the Iranian Constitution recognizes the right to religious freedom and according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad there is no thought crimes law in Iran.

There is a petition to the Iranian Government in several languages www.petitiononline.com/IRANPET/petition.html to have them released.

The petition asks Iranian Presidemt Ahmadinejad to release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Fatemeh Pasandideh, Fatemeh Kojouri Tork ( the wife of Pastor Behrouz), Mehdi and Mina Kerbalayi and their mother, Nahid, Brother Afshin, Sister Mahsa, brother mid, Sister Nasrin, Pastor Behnam Irani, Pastor Behrouz Sadegh immediately, without charges.

Concerned believers are being asked to contact the German government and human rights associations to let them know about this problem. Three of the prisoners are in a very bad situation.

Www.worthynews.com reports Pastor Youcef faces execution after two judges agreed to make him "liable to capital punishment," as part of a crackdown on the growing Protestant church movement in the Islamic nation.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was detained in June along with wife Fatemeh Pasandideh in the city of Rasht in northwestern Iran because of their Christian activities, Iranian Christians said.

A senior pastor of the Church of Iran movement, which includes house churches across the country, told Worthy News that judges had "already signed" an Islamic order that would potentially allow a death sentence for Nadarkhani, pending further investigations. The pastor usually speaks on condition of anonymity amid security concerns.

News of the execution overshadowed joy over the release of two Church of Iran Christians, a man and a woman, and the expected release this week on bail of two other members, who the movement only identified as "brothers Mehdi and Afshin."

MORE DETENTIONS

Worthynews.com reports they were part of a group of eight Church of Iran members detained June 18, according to the senior pastor. One of them, a pastor's wife identified as Fatemeh Kojouri Tork, remained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison Tuesday, July 13, while her husband, Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani, was kept in isolation in a security prison in the southwestern city of Shiraz, the Christian leader said.

"We still do not hear from Reverend Behrouz Khanjani..." Iranian Christians have also expressed concerns about reports of other detentions, including last month's capture of Pastor Behnam Irani in the city of Karaj, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of Tehran.

Several believers have allegedly been mistreated, sources said.

"We have learned that information that [security forces] have been using substances to extract confessions from Christians," the senior pastor said.

Iranian officials have not commented on the cases, the sources stated.

AUTHORITIES CONCERNED

Wortheynews.com also says religious rights groups have linked the crackdown to concern among authorities about growing churches and the spread of Christianity among Muslims in the country.

Church sources say the number of Christians in Iran has grown from 500 known believers in 1979 to at least 100,000 today.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly said the government needed to halt the growing movement of house churches across Iran.

Under Iran's strict interpretation of Islam, "apostasy" -- or the formal renunciation of religion -- is punishable by death.

One Christian persecution watchdog reports that over the last decade, the Iranian church has grown significantly and estimates now say the total number of Christians in Iran to be about 450,000.

The group said the government has intentionally sought to stop this growth and make it impossible for Christians to practice their religion.

Although churches connected to minority groups, such as Armenians and Assyrians, are allowed to teach their own people in their own language, it is forbidden to minister to people with a Muslim background (speaking Farsi).

Dests said the death sentence imposed on Pastor Youcef is expected to be carried out by October 24.

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TAGS: Iran death sentence Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani thought crime Koranic teaching religious freedom persecution

[10/11/2010] Print Version

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