There are no new reports on the immediate fate of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, condemned to death in Iran because he became a Christian. However, the Iranian regime is clearly feeling the pressure of international calls for his release and is now trying to deny that he has been sentenced to death. It also is trying to muddy the water by claiming that there are hitherto unknown (and false) accusations against him.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that “the Iranian Embassy in London released a statement claiming that fears of a death sentence were ‘unsubstantiated.’” Also, despite the fact that the court records state he was found guilty of apostasy, the regime is also trying to spread false reports that he was “found guilty of rape and being [a] Zionist ‘working against the Islamic Order.’”
CSW also reports that, on September 14, eleven Iranian Christians who had previously fled Iran received emailed threats from a group calling itself “The Unknown Soldiers of the Hidden Imam” and demanding that they forsake their Christian faith or face extra-judicial execution. The “unknown soldiers” are believed to have links with the Iranian security services. The email concludes by demanding that the Christians take “the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness from the presence of the Hidden Imam and the Great Allah” or “according to the Fatwa given by Mehdi the Hidden Imam, they must be killed.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reports that, on Sept. 29, 2011, 20 Baha’is were arrested in Esfahan and taken to an unknown location. Seven were released on October 1, but the rest are still being held.
HRANA also reports that the regime, following its practice of arresting the lawyers who defend those it has arrested, has also extended the detention order of Abdolfattah Soltani, a lawyer for imprisoned Baha’is.
The Iranian regime is continuing its vicious persecution of religious minorities, but despite its blustery protestations of Islamic purity, it is still unwilling to admit and defend what it does
The regime is clearly feeling and trying to counter international opprobrium and pressure. Now is the time to increase this pressure — first for Nadarkhani’s release, and second for the other brave Iranians struggling for freedom in Iran.
— Paul Marshall is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author, with Nina Shea, of the just released Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedoms Worldwide (Oxford University Press, 2011).