Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of apostasy, has been released from prison after tireless work by his lawyers and an international outcry regarding his situation.
Early in his life, Nadarkhani abandoned his Islamic faith and by age 19 officially converted to Christianity and shortly thereafter began his work as a pastor. In 2006, Nadarkhani began to protest the mandatory enrollment of his children in Quran classes at school. He was immediately imprisoned on charges of protesting. A few months into his sentence, his charge was changed to apostasy, the abandonment of one’s religion.
Nadarkhani was brought before a court in 2010 and given the death penalty. He was to be executed by hanging. His lawyers appealed the verdict, but a court in the city of Qom upheld the original sentence. But September 8, 2012, the apostasy charge was downgraded to evangelizing Muslims, the penalty for which was three years. Given that Nadarkhani had already served about six years in prison, he was released from a facility in Lakan, Iran.
Reaction from the international community regarding Nadarkhani’s plight had been strong, outspoken and unrelenting. Iran’s constitution allows for the free practice of one’s own religion, and yet the courts were still permitted to convict Nadarkhani of apostasy. Such a clear violation of basic human rights garnered reaction from many groups, including NIAC.
The U.S. State Department called for Nadarkhani’s release this past July, noting that in imprisoning the pastor, the government was violating Iran’s constitution. The State Department welcomed Nadarkhani’s release but noted that still others in Iran remain persecuted:
Despite this welcome news, the status of religious freedom in Iran remains grave. Many more Iranians remain in prison and face persecution simply because of their faith. More than 100 Baha’is and members of the Sunni Muslim, Zoroastrian, and Gonabadi Dervish communities suffer in confinement, and we call for their immediate release. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Iran who struggle to have their fundamental human rights respected.
Nadarkhani’s release is indeed welcome news that demonstrates the power of focusing an international spotlight on Iran’s human rights abuses. But as long as Iran’s judiciary continues to persecute Iranians based on their religion, that important work is far from over.Back to top