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EDITORIAL: Pastor Yousef: Convert or die

Tehran delays execution to try to force Christian to apostatize

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Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian cleric facing death for the crime of apostasy against an Islamic faith he never held, has been given a temporary stay of execution. Iran's top judge, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, instructed presiding Judge Ghazi Kashani to delay carrying out capital punishment for a year in order to give time for Mr. Nadarkhani to recant Christianity and become a Muslim.

The Iranian regime may be responding to international pressure. Mr. Nadarkhani's case has become a prominent cause for the religious-rights community. His story was first reported by Christian and Iranian dissident websites, then by Western media outlets. On International Human Rights Day, Dec. 9, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on "every government to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly [a Vietnamese Catholic priest], and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo [dissident writer in prison in China]."

Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 for questioning Islamic control of religious instruction of Iranian children. He was first charged with illegal protest and later with the more serious crimes of apostasy and evangelizing Muslims. He was convicted in September 2010 and sentenced to death. His wife was given life in prison, and his attorney, Iranian human-rights lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, was convicted separately of "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime," sentenced to nine years in prison and barred from practicing law for a decade.

Mr. Nadarkhani appealed the death sentence, which was affirmed by Iran's Supreme Court in June 2011. Prosecutors acknowledged he had never been a Muslim as an adult but said the apostasy law still applies because he has "Islamic ancestry." Hearings were held in September to give Mr. Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant his faith and avoid execution. When asked to repent his Christian beliefs, Mr. Nadarkhani replied, "Repent means to return. What should I return to?" The court pressed that he should return "to the religion of your ancestors, Islam." Mr. Nadarkhani said, "I cannot."

The delay in carrying out the sentence buys time for the Iranian regime, in hopes that Mr. Nadarkhani will either submit to Islam or be forgotten by the international community and be executed in secrecy, unnoticed. It's unlikely he will succumb to pressure. In a 2010 prison epistle, he discussed at length the centrality of suffering and sacrifice to his faith. The true believer, he wrote, "does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ's suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in his glory."

Mr. Nadakhani counsels those following his case to, "Retain your souls with patience. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret." Iran's mullahs should be certain that if they sacrifice him on the gallows, the world will know, and sit in judgment.

The Washington Times

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