Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, has been sentenced to death for being a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam. Since his arrest more than two years ago, the married father of two has become the face of the persecuted church. Here are some details about his life and court battle.
Nadarkhani was born in the city of Rasht in the Gilan Province of Northern Iran to Muslim parents.
According to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, Nadarkhani turned to Christianity at the age of 19, becoming a member of the Only Jesus Church in Rasht. Nadarkhani claims he was never a practicing Muslim.
For the past 10 years, Nadarkhani has pastored for a network of house churches. Before his arrest in 2009, he was the pastor of a 400-person congregation in the Gilan province.
Nadarkhani was originally arrested in Dec. 2006 for being a pastor. He was accused of apostasy (leaving Islam for Christianity) and attempting to evangelize Muslims. He was released two weeks later, according to Present Truth Ministries.
In Oct. 2009, Nadarkhani learned that his two Christian sons, Daniel and Yoel (currently 9 and 7 years old, respectively) would be taught about Islam in their local schools, as approved by the government. Nadarkhani went to his children’s schools to protest, and was arrested.
On Oct. 12, 2009, a political tribunal in Rasht charged him for protesting, and he was imprisoned in a jail in Lakan, a city seven miles south of his hometown of Rasht.
Nadarkhani’s charges were later changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. Nadarkhani repeatedly refused to recant his Christian faith.
On June 18, 2010, Fatema Pasindedih, Nadarkhani’s wife, was arrested and tried for apostasy, for which she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, according to Present Truth Ministries. The sentence was later appealed and overturned.
Nadarkhani was tried Sept. 21-22, 2010 by the First Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death for apostasy on Nov. 13, according to Prisoner Alert, a ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs.
The young pastor appealed his case on Dec. 5, 2010, to Iran’s Supreme Court.
On June 28, 2011, the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court of Qom decided to uphold Nadarkhani’s guilty verdict for apostasy, sentencing him to be executed. However, the Supreme Court ordered the lower Gilan province court to re-examine Nadarkhani’s case and determine if he was a practicing Muslim from age 15-19, according to Present Truth Ministries.
The lower court re-examined the case from Sept. 25-28 in 2011. During these three days, Nadarkhani was given the opportunity to recant three times, reportedly being told his life would be spared if he denounced Christianity. Nadarkhani repeatedly refused to recant his Christian faith.
Due to increased international pressure, the local court decided to pass the case to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review. Khamenei has ultimate authority in Iran’s judicial affairs.
Although Khamenei was originally supposed to announce the final verdict by Dec. 2011, in mid-December Present Truth Ministries reported that Nadarkhani’s verdict would not be announced for another four months. Other sources claimed that the verdict might not come for another year.
On Feb. 22, 2012 Nadarkhani’s fate took a turn for the worse. According to the American Center for Law and Justice’s sources in Iran, the Iranian courts may have issued an execution order for Nadarkhani.
Present Truth Ministries said in a Feb. 22 press release that Iranian courts did in fact issue an execution order for the Iranian pastor.
Currently, Nadarkhani’s wife, Fatema, and his two sons await further news on their father’s fate.
This man has imaged today in the 21st Century what it means to to walk on the way of the cross. Pastor Youcef has put faith in us all in what he has shown in this day and age.