An Iranian pastor facing death a death sentence for refusing to renounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam is expected to spend another year in jail, awaiting an appeal on his death sentence, while government authorities try to force him to convert to Islam.
However, the delay could be a ruse and the Iranian government could kill him in secret, warns the founder of Present Truth Ministries, which was the first to report on Pastor Yosef Nadarkhani’s arrest in October 2009.
That’s the most recent development in Nadarkhani’s religious and political nightmare of more than two years, according to The Christian Post.
Nadarkhani, who has been jailed since he was arrested and charged with apostasy, came within two days of being hanged in September until Iranian court officials — perhaps influenced by international outrage from the Rev. Franklin Graham, House Speaker John Boehner, and other notables around the world — decided to let him appeal the sentence.
The 34-year-old Nadarkhani, who became a Christian at the age of 19, was tried and convicted in December 2010. The pastor of several home congregations in a small Christian community called the Church of Iran, he has refused repeatedly to recant his faith.
The apostasy charge stems from the government’s allegation that he converted from Islam to Christianity, while his defense claims that he had not been a Muslim before becoming a Christian. The government contends that he was a Muslim because he was born into a Muslim household.
He refused three times during the three days running up to his execution date to recant, and his death appeared to be imminent until he received a reprieve of sorts.
The evangelical pastor’s lawyer was confident at one time that his conviction would be reversed. But he was told that Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary, asked the presiding judge to delay judgment on his appeal and keep him in prison for another year, the Christian Post reported last month.
The deliberate delay is meant to let the case “slip away from international attention” even as the authorities continue to “use whatever means necessary to cause him to convert to Islam,” the Christian Post quotes Present Truth Ministries’ Jason DeMars as saying.
The case has taken several outrageous turns since Nardakhani’s arrest, including the arrest of his wife in an attempt to force him to recant, as well as the addition of other trumped-up charges of rape, security violations, and Zionism that Iranian officials added around the execution date. That was the first time in the two-year process that such charges had been mentioned, and many observers regarded the additional charges as an effort to rationalize the death penalty.
Various reports have indicated that his health is deteriorating in prison.
Although the Iranian court very well could wait another year before deciding Nadarkhani’s fate, “there are no assurances that he will not be executed,” DeMars warned. “It could happen 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.”