The former pastor of a network of Christian churches in Iran could face execution by the state for apostasy.
Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht on October 13, 2009 while attempting to register his church after protesting compulsory Islamic religious instruction in Iranian public schools. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights group, reports that he was originally charged with protesting; however, the charges against the 32-year-old were later changed to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.
According to the official indictment put forward to the Iranian Supreme Court, the only way Mr Nadarkhani can now avoid his sentence is if he can prove that he was never actually a Muslim - a Herculean task, since he was apparently born into a Muslim family, and Islamic tradition has always held - as delineated by Muhammad himself - that every human being is born a Muslim, and only turned "astray" to other religions by their parents later in life.
As a US Department of State spokeswoman pointed out:
"He is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran, including the seven leaders of the Baha’i community whose imprisonment was increased to 20 years for practicing their faith and hundreds of Sufis who have been flogged in public because of their beliefs."
Indeed. Back in February, a joint statement by six international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, condemned the widespread use of political executions in Iran, which frequently involve more than a passing religious dimension. The press release notes that "At least eight of those executed in January were political prisoners, convicted of 'enmity against God' (moharebeh) for participating in demonstrations, or for their alleged links to opposition groups."
Also, "The recent executions also raise fears for the lives of two men, Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, believed to have been sentenced to death by Revolutionary Courts following separate unfair trials in which they were accused of 'spreading corruption on earth.'"
And: "On January 26 authorities announced that Sayed Ali Gharabat had been executed for 'spreading corruption' and 'apostasy' in Karoun Prison, Ahvaz, after he, according to authorities, falsely claimed to have communicated with the Twelfth Imam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that the Twelfth Imam is currently in hiding and will return to earth to bring about justice."
This specific charge, of "spreading corruption in the land", which is taken directly from Qur'an 5:33 (which also prescribes the penalty of crucifixion, amputation or banishment), is nothing new. Eliz Sanasarian notes in her landmark book Religious Minorities in Iran that the exact same phrase was used to justify the execution of the Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian by the Khomeini regime in 1979, as well as during the persecution of the Bahai's throughout that era.
The press release concludes with the following recommendations:
To put an end to this killing spree, other nations should demand that Iran immediately end these executions and respect its obligations under international law, Shirin Ebadi and the six human rights organizations said.
Iran has made consistent efforts to obstruct scrutiny of the situation in the country by international human rights mechanisms over the past five years. In light of that record, Shirin Ebadi and the organizations called on other nations to take advantage of the forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council to appoint a special envoy of the UN Secretary-General with a mandate to investigate and report on human rights conditions in Iran.
I certainly hope they oblige, but if the past record is anything to go by, we cannot trust the UNHRC to do anything other than ignore the genuine human rights abuses committed by Islamic regimes. In any case, these blatant acts of barbarity should be condemned by every individual in the free world - openly, noisily and insistently.