A court in Iran has ordered the death penalty for Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old Christian pastor who is also a married father of two young children. His crime? Leaving Islam and converting to Christianity:
Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and was tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht. He was then given verbal notification of an impending death-by-hanging sentence.
His lawyers appealed the decision under the premise that Nadarkhani was never a Muslim at the age of majority, and the case was sent to Iran’s Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision of execution, provided it could be proven that he had been a practicing Muslim from the age of adulthood, 15 in Islamic law, to age 19, which was when he converted.
The lower court then ruled that Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam during his adult life but still upheld the apostasy charge because he was born into a Muslim family.
The court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant, as the law requires a man to be given three chances to recant his beliefs and return to Islam.
His first option was to convert back to Islam. When he refused, he was asked to declare Muhammad a prophet, and still he declined.
Iran’s judiciary had delayed in issuing a final verdict, fearing the decision would have far-reaching political implications.
Sources say Nadarkhani has been advised by family members, lawyers and members of his church to remain silent throughout his ordeal, out of fear that authorities may use his statements against him, a strategy commonly employed by the regime.