The lawyer for a Christian pastor in Iran who faces a death sentence for refusing to renounce his faith says he expects the final appeal verdict to land in his client’s favor on Saturday, even as pleas echo worldwide to save Yosef Nadarkhani from being hanged.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who previously had predicted that the final decision on the pastor’s appeal would come when Iran’s supreme court convenes on Oct. 10, told AFP Thursday that he expects the ruling on Saturday instead.
The lawyer also disputed rumors that the court intends to uphold the death sentence for apostasy, as well as other charges of security violations, rape, and Zionism that an Iranian official added last weekend. That was the first time such additional charges had been mentioned since the case began in 2009, and many regarded them as an effort to rationalize the death penalty.
|Pastor Yosef Nadarkhani refuses to renounce his Christian faith, despite death sentence by hanging.
However, Dadkhah maintains that Nadarkhani’s trial focused only on the charge of apostasy — in this case, refusing to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam. He insists that his client has persuaded judges to free him despite his repeated refusals to reject his faith.
The 34-year-old Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity 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.
Last week, he spurned the court’s ultimatum to reject Christianity during at least one of ritual three chances or face enforcement of his penalty and restated his Christian beliefs instead.
The Iranian court’s brutal sentence has propelled increasing numbers of protests, ranging from the Rev. Franklin Graham’s condemnation
of the pastor’s potential fate, to statements from the White House and U.S. lawmakers, to international outrage.
“It is unfathomable to most thinking people that a person in the 21st century can be put to death simply for espousing a faith that differs from that of his nation's ruling powers. Belief cannot be prescribed or proscribed. Faith is the most basic, fundamental right of every human being.
“While this kind of religious intolerance from the Islamic government and so-called justice system in Iran [Sharia law] doesn't surprise me, the initial virtual silence of the international community does,” said Graham, who warned in a Newsmax interview
in March that radical Islam endangers Christians worldwide. “A man is sentenced to be killed for the ‘crime’ of a sincere belief in Jesus Christ — a sentence in clear violation of international law. So where is the international outrage?”
House Speaker John Boehner also decried the sentence last week, saying, "I urge Iran's leaders to abandon this dark path, spare Yosef Nadarkhani's life, and grant him a full and unconditional release.
"Religious freedom is a universal human right," the Ohio Republican said, adding that the potential execution is “distressing for people of every country and creed.
"While Iran's government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity," Boehner said.
Similar pleas have come from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, as well as U.S., British, and German government officials.
On Monday, GOP presidential hopeful and Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement labeling the pastor’s impending execution “unacceptable.”
“There is no shade of gray or room for equivocation here,” Perry said. “Freedom to worship is a basic human right, and the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani are an affront to the essential principles of the civilized world.”
Members of Congress joining the chorus of protests include Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.; Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.; Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.; and Reps. Frank Wolf and Randy Forbes, both Virginia Republicans.
Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal organization that televangelist Pat Robertson founded, told CNN that his organization is working with members of Congress to ensure these statements continue.
“There will be more congressional support . . . absolutely there will be more and more group statements,” Sekulow said.
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