By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court that earlier sentenced evangelical pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to death for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, will “re-examine” his case later this month, a mission group with close knowledge about the case confirmed to BosNewsLife, Thursday, September 15.
“We have learned that the re-examination will take place on September 25, 2011,” said Jason DeMars, director of Present Truth Ministries, which supports reportedly persecuted Christians in the region.
“The local court was ordered by Branch 27 of the Supreme Court to examine specifically whether he was a practicing Muslim between the age of accountability, 15, until he became a Christian at age 19,” DeMars added.
Nadarkhani, whose first name is also spelled as Yousef, was recently told by the Supreme Court however that he “can be executed” for refusing to abandon his faith in Christ and return to Islam.
The lower court had earlier reached a similar conclusion. It remained unclear Wednesday, September 15, whether Iran’s often secretive judges were looking for a legal way to prevent execution by deciding that Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim in the first place.
There has been mounting international pressure on Iran to release Nadarkhani, who led a congregation of the Church of Iran, a major house church network. He was detained in the northwestern city of Rasht in October 2009, while trying to register his home church, Christians said at the time.
Nadarkhani was sentenced to death by hanging for being an apostate to Islam in November 2010. His appeal against the sentence was rejected on June 27, 2011, and send back to the same lower court that already sentenced him to death, according to several trial observers.
Iranian Christians also say the pastor has been tortured.
DeMars said he was also concerned about Christian Behnam Irani, who he said remains in prison in the city of Karaj, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of Tehran. Additionally, five other Christians were ordered to report to prison to serve a one year sentence in Shiraz, he and other sources said.
“This is part of a larger campaign by the Iranian government to purge the nation of Christians. Many government paid mullahs have issued statements during sermons encouraging the police to do more to put an end to the Christian movement in Iran,” he added.
He said his group has urged Christians around the world to join on September 24 “for a day of fasting and prayer for brother Youcef and his case.” De Mars told fellow believers: “Let’s join forces in this spiritual battle and keep our brother continuously covered in prayer.”
Iran’s government has denied wrongdoing saying it defends the values of the strict Islamic state.
Nadarkhani has however urged members of his home church and other Christians not to give up their faith in Christ. In written remarks, resembling letters written by jailed Apostle Paul from the Bible, Nadarkhani called upon believers to accept persecution “as a part of their spiritual course.”
The 33-year-old pastor referred to the Biblical account of Jesus’ suffering at the cross at Calvary before His resurrection from death on the third day so everyone who believes in Him has eternal life.
“The Son [of God] was challenged at Calvary in the hardest way, as it is written in the Scriptures,” he explained. In a letter smuggled out of prison, he cited Hebrews 5:7-8. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”