“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” — John 15:19-20
As we reported back in July, Iranian Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani was on trial and facing the death penalty in Iran for the crime of apostasy, which is converting to Christianity from Islam. In the summer, the execution was postponed for further deliberation by Iranian authorites. Now as international attention has been drawn to this case of persecution, the Iranian authorities have changed the story behind the arrest and prosecution of the pastor:
Since news of Nadarkhani’s looming execution spread, Iran has been loudly decrying the pastor as “a convicted rapist and extortionist,” and the Fars News Agency said over the weekend that Nadarkhani was to be executed for Zionism and threats to national security.
“This individual is guilty and his crime is not attempting to convert others to Christianity, rather his crimes are of a security nature,” Ali Rezvani, Deputy Governor of Gilan Province, stated.
The rape and extortion charges were never included in the original arrest documents filed against Pastor Nardarkhani. The charge was strictly apostasy and went into detail of what specific actions the Pastor was doing that brought on the arrest:
“He has often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity. He has been accused of breaking Islamic Law that from puberty (15 years according to Islamic law) until the age of 19 the year 1996, he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home.
“During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim. During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir–olvasileh.”
The document, obtained by rights group American Center for Law and Justice prove that that apostasy is still the only charge against him, not the rape or security violations he is now said to face.
“Now that we have captured the full attention of the Iranian regime, it is critical that we determine whether this is more of the same government spin we expect out of Iran, or, more urgently, an attempt to lay out as many reasons that Iran can come up with to justify killing pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” said Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ.
After a week in which The White House, European Union and officials in the United Kingdom all condemned the actions of Iran in this case, it appears the government is now stating that the death penalty will not be applied in the Pastor’s case. This is an amazing breakthrough. However, we must continue in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani as he is at the whim of the Iranian criminal justice system.
Standing For His Faith
On September 27th, a hearing was held where Pastor Nardarkhani was given a chance to renounce his faith in Christianity and have his death sentence removed. Facing execution, the bold Pastor refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ as His Savior and the Son of God.
Jesus Christ teaches us that this type of persecution is to be expected. As we draw closer to the end times, the hatred against Jesus and those who follow Him will continue to spread. The ACLJ on their website have a petition you can sign for Pastor Nardarkhani as well as resources for contacting U.S. officials to request they speak out on the Pastor’s behalf. Pray for the Christians in Iran who are persecuted and risking their lives just by following the Christian faith. And pray for the light of the Gospel to continue to shine the darkness of religious oppression so that more of the people of Iran can come to salvation and forgiveness. And of course pray for Pastor Nardarkhani who is sitting in a cell right now with his life in the balance. For his safety, freedom and most importantly his faith that Jesus Christ is with him through this entire ordeal.
The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.
All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me.
They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.
Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth. — Psalm 119