RELEASED!! SEPTEMBER 2012!
You can read his full story below, but he has been released and remains in Rasht, Iran.
Full Story of Youcef Nadarkhani
We first reported the arrest of pastor Youcef in the fall of 2009. The report was given to us by our contacts in the Church of Iran network. If you’d like to assist us in our work for the persecuted church you can do so here.
Here is a brief history of Youcef Nadarkhani, leading up to his current situation.
Youcef is 35 years old and is from Rasht, in Gilan province of northern Iran. For the past ten years he has been a pastor in a network of house churches. He was previously imprisoned in December of 2006, the charges being apostasy (leaving Islam for Christianity) and evangelism (spreading the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ), but was released two weeks later.
He is married to Fatemah “Tina” Pasindedih who is 34, and has two sons, Daniel age 10 and Yoel age 8. They were attending a local school when the government decided that all children should be taught about Islam, including those from Christian families. Youcef went to the school and protested this based on the Iranian constitution, which allows for freedom to practice religion. As a result, the secret police called him before the political tribunal in Rasht, Iran on October 12, 2009. At that time he was arrested, charged for protesting, and has been in Lakan Prison ever since. Later the charges changed to apostasy and evangelism to Muslims.
Youcef is imprisoned in Lakan prison in Rasht. Over the time of his incarceration he has mostly had access to an attorney, and has been allowed visits from his wife, children, and at the beginning from friends. However, for the first month in prison and for several months around the time of his trials he was in solitary confinement. They have used various methods to try to convert him back to Islam, including transferring him to a mental hospital, apparently in an attempt to claim that he was insane, given him books written by Shia defenders of Islam, shown him the rope and gallows he was to be hung with and even arresting his wife and giving her a life sentence in prison.
Because Youcef’s faith remained strong, they decided to arrest his wife in order to place more pressure on him. On June 18th, 2010 Fatemah (Tina) Pasindedih was arrested, charged with apostasy and placed in prison in Lakan. During this time their boys went to live with a relative. Both Youcef and his wife Fatemah were threatened by authorities that their children would be taken away and given to a Muslim family. Youcef was not swayed to turn back to Islam, so his wife was put on trial without an attorney, and sentenced to life in prison. An attorney was later hired and the sentence appealed. The sentence and conviction were overturned and she was released.
On September 21 and 22, 2010, Youcef was put on trial, and verbally given the sentence of death. A written verdict was delayed and then delivered, on November 13, 2010, by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal. He is to be executed by hanging for the crime of apostasy. Twenty days are allowed to appeal the sentence with the Supreme Court of Iran.
On December 5, 2010 the verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, but on June 28, 2011 we learned that the Supreme Court reached a decision. The third chamber of the Supreme Court in Qom upheld his conviction for apostasy and the death sentence. They ordered the local court to re-examine whether or not he was a practicing Muslim from ages 15 to 19. They wanted to determine if he was a practicing Muslim or if he was a national apostate.
The re-examination of his case was held September 25th through 28th of 2011. From the very beginning of the trial he was asked if he would recant, even before the case was heard or the trial completed. The court determined that even though he did not practice Islam his ancestors did therefore Youcef is considered a national apostate.
Here is a translation of the written verdict.
During one hearing he was told to recant and he responded, “You ask me to recant. Recant means to return. What do you wish me to return to? The blasphemy that I was in before Christ?” The judges responded, “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.” Youcef replied, “I cannot.” The Muslim attorney that is working to help him had this to say about his client, ”Physically he looks weak but emotionally his belief in Christ is keeping his spirits high.”
Based upon Islamic Sharia Law an apostate is to be given three days to recant. There is a very real concern that he could be executed at any time. The attorney’s suggest that first a written verdict will be delivered, by law within a week, and secondly they will have the opportunity to appeal the verdict.
Here are three encouraging letters that Youcef wrote from prison.
Letter From Youcef Nadarkhani 1. June 2010
Letter From Youcef Nadarkhani 2. January 2011
Letter From Youcef Nadarkhani 3 May 2012
In October 2011 the Gilan court wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini. Since he is the final legal authority in the country, they requested his opinion for how they should rule in the case. With all the international pressure that was mounting the local court realized that they had to be careful about their ruling. They knew that it had far reaching geo-political implications.
At this point in time the government controlled Iranian media began to release various lies regarding the court’s charges against Youcef. Their lies were easily disproved as we have a copy of the local courts original verdict and the response from the Supreme Court in Qom. Both of them detail only the charge of apostasy and nothing more.
In late 2011 the Iranian court told Youcef that if he accepted Mohammed as a prophet sent from God they would release him. Then in early 2012 after that they said they would release him if he said that Islam was one of the divine religions. To both of these requests Youcef did not respond as he felt they were both to trap him in his words.
Rumors and speculation regarding either Youcef already being executed or that the execution order was signed have floated around since September 2011. All the while we were able to confirm that he is alive and doing well in the Lord.
Khameini has still not responded to the letter from the local court. However, in July 2012 we were informed that Youcef would be put on trial again on September 8, 2012 at 9:00 AM local Iranian time. The charges were not detailed in the court order that was sent to Youcef’s attorney.
During this time there was no assurances he would not be executed. According to Sharia law he is to be given 3 days to recant. He is almost a year beyond the three days that were given to him at the trial in 2011. It could have happened at any time. This is the way that the Iranian government operates with executions. They do not give advance notice and it is done in secret.
On September 8, 2012 he went to trial and was cleared of apostasy charges. He was sentenced to three years in prison for evangelism. He had already served all but one month of that sentence and bail was set for the security of someone’s paycheck. Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison and has been reunited with his family.