The American interfaith delegation — Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Episcopal bishop John Bryson Chane, and Council on American Islamic Relations director Nihad Awad — who made headlines when they traveled to Tehran and secured the release of the two American hikers last week should pack their bags again. They need to make a return trip. And they better hurry.
As early as this week, the British-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, Iran may execute Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
As my colleague Paul Marshall recently wrote, evangelical Pastor Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for apostasy because he converted to Christianity. He had been tried and found guilty a year ago, even though the court also found that he had never been a practicing Muslim as an adult. Nadarkhani, from Rasht, on the Caspian Sea, converted to Christianity as a teenager.
Iran’s Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict in June, ordered that the pastor be given four chances to renounce Christianity and accept Islam. Two hearings for this purpose took place yesterday and today. Two more are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Pastor had been arrested in 2009 when he tried to register his church with authorities. His defense lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah was himself sentenced in July to nine years imprisonment for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime.” He is now appealing.
According to the U.S. State Department, if carried out, Pastor Nadarkhani’s execution would be the first for apostasy since 1990 in Iran.
— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author, with Paul Marshall, of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedoms Worldwide (Oxford University Press, November 2011).