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Lawyer Hopeful For Release Of Iranian Christian Pastor Facing Death

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Yusef Naderkhani has been in jail since October 2009

Yusef Naderkhani has been in jail since October 2009

The lawyer of Yusef Naderkhani, an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, says there is a good chance his client will be acquitted.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah made the comments to RFE/RL's Radio Farda as international anger over the sentence grew.
"I have provided the court with explanations that I believe will make the court change its decision, and it is 90 to 95 percent likely that the court will acquit Naderkhani," Dadkhah said.
The 33-year-old Naderkhani converted to Christianity from Islam in 1997, when he was 19. He was arrested in 2009, when he was serving as the pastor of a small church in the northern city of Rasht. A court sentenced him to hanging after convicting him of apostasy.
Islamic law in Iran says a Muslim who converts to another faith can face the death penalty.
Naderkhani's wife was sentenced to life imprisonment but has been released.
Call To Repent
The Supreme Court upheld Naderkhani's sentence but said his conviction would be overturned if he repented and renounced his conversion.
Lawyer Dadkhah said that at a recent court appearance Naderkhani refused multiple demands to repent.
Dadkhah said he argued against the death sentence for his client.
"I said that at the time of Prophet Mohammad no one was killed for being an apostate. The history of Islam shows that at the time of the Prophet three tribes became apostate but the Prophet didn't [order] them to be killed. There's nothing about killing apostates in the Koran," he said.


Dadkhah is a prominent human rights advocate and a colleague of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. In July, he was sentenced to nine years in prison and banned for 10 years from practicing law.

He has appealed the sentence and is waiting for a final decision.

The court is due to announce its final decision on Naderkhani's conviction in the next few days.
The case has led to strong criticism by the United States and Britain.
The U.S. government on September 29 condemned Naderkhani's conviction and called on Iran to release him.
A statement from the White House said, "That the Iranian authorities would try to force [Naderkhani] to renounce [his] faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations."
It added, "A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens."
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner also urged Iran to grant Naderkhani "a full and unconditional release."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on September 28 that he "deplored" reports that the pastor could be executed for not returning to Islam.
Crackdown On Proselytizing
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also expressed deep concern about the fate of the Christian pastor and called for his immediate release.
Dwight Bashir, USCIRF's deputy director for policy and research, told RFE/RL that international outrage can only help.
"There hasn't been an execution of a Christian pastor for apostasy for over 20 years, but it seems like we're at the cusp of something and it really has to be deterred at this stage," Bashir said.
Iran has in recent years launched a crackdown to curb proselytizing by Christians.
A number of churches have reportedly been shut down and Christian converts arrested. No executions have been carried out.
In January, Tehran Governor Morteza Tamaddon said missionary evangelicals have increased their activities in the Islamic republic. Some Christian converts say there is growing interest in Christianity in Iran.
with reporting by Radio Farda's Keyvan Hosseini

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