In the year 2012, Iran prepares to execute a Christian pastor for apostasy from Islam. Nuclear aspirations and medieval mindsets are apparently compatible.
After nearly two-and-a-half years of tormenting an imprisoned Christian, the Islamic Republic of Iran has now confirmed that it is prepared to execute him. His crime? At age 19 he left the religion of his birth—Islam—and converted to Christianity, becoming a pastor in the beleagured Christian community there. Is there a connection between this move of Iran and the impact of the latest international sanctions on that state noted for its wild rhetoric and nuclear ambitions ?
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was first arrested in October 2009 and charged with apostasy. Imprisoned since then, he has repeatedly been pressured to renounce Christianity and to affirm belief in Islam. In December 2011, he was offered release in return for his agreement that Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, was a messenger sent by God. This he refused to do. His steadfastness caused apparent consternation with the authorities who delayed proceedings in his case several times—relegating it to another court, imposing conditions for the finding of guilt, and blatantly attempting to change the charges. At times, there was even doubt as to whether he was still alive or not.
Now however, it has been confirmed that a sentence of death against the pastor has recently (sometime in February 2012) been issued by a trial court in Iran. Executions there can be carried out with little notice and in secret. Internationally, in light of the urgency, pressure is mounting on Iran to release Nadarkhani, who has remained silent throughout his ordeal lest his words provide more fuel to be used against him..
Iran’s Death Sentence for Nadarkhani: Retaliation for Sanctions?
Nadarkhani, as an apostate from Islam, is liable for the death penalty in Iran, which follows a legal system based on Sharia law. His case is not unique in Iran nor in the wider Muslim world.
Speaking of apostates, Turkish author and columnist, Mustafa Akyol, states, “These renegade Muslims may well face the death penalty in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan, and other forms of oppression in many Muslim societies.”
Acknowledging that this contravenes the most basicof human rights, he goes on to explain, “The reason for this systemic violation of religious freedom is, unfortunately, religious. Most classic schools of Shariah consider apostasy from Islam a crime punishable by death.”
Security Concerns Also Cited for Religious Persecution
However, followers of many faiths, not just Christians, are under pressure in Iran, seen as security threats to the state. A mullah recently stated: “The circles for promotion of Christianity, Baha’ism, Wahhabism, Sufism… should be eliminated with the efforts of the Law Enforcement Force as per God’s wish. The most significant psychological disease is created by these meetings and circles. They are corrupt and the biggest disrupters of the country’s security” (Present Truth).
More on this topic
Sharia Law in Iran: Death Penalty for Christian Youcef Nadarkhani
Christian Pastor Nadarkhani Stands Firm—Iran Threatens Execution
Yadegari Prison Sentence Analyzed
Note that this enmity extends beyond apostates from Islam and beyond non-Muslims—even Muslim sects, other than Iran’s predominant Shi’a sect, are targeted.
Speculation as to Iran’s Motives
Sharia law could provide justification in the Iranian view for the death sentence on Nadarkhani; however, undercurrents are present in this case which present intriguing possibilities as to other motivation on Iran’s part.
Iran has recently been the target of increased international sanctions due to its nuclear weapons program—widely believed to exist, but which it has not acknowledged. As a result, it has responded with threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic shipping lane. Some are seeing a connection between the imminent execution of Nadarkhani and Iran’s predicament.
Fox News is reporting: “It is also feared that Nadarkhani will be executed in retaliation as Iran endures crippling sanctions and international pressure in response to its nuclear agenda and rogue rhetoric. The number of executions in Iran has increased significantly in the last month.”
However, another possibilty is that this new development allows the authorities again to pressure the condemend man to recant—but now with a sharper edge to their coercion, with a confirmed death sentence hanging over his head. A recantation by Nadarkhani would be a huge victory for Iran’s fundamentalist rulers—an affirmation of the rightness of the Islamic way in full view of the watching world.
Another explanation for the announcement of the death penalty at this time could be that Iran will use the current confused situation around its nuclear status, with sanctions and threats swirling, as a smokescreen to carry out what it has long intended to do—execute a Christian dissident.
Or, is it that by upping the pressure in this highly prominent and widely watched case, that Iran would hope to bargain Nadarkhani’s fate for a lessening of sanctions? Regardless of Iran’s sometimes inscrutable motivation, the result of this confirmation of the death penalty for Nadarkhani is that the suffering of an innocent man and his family has been exacerbated.
Medieval Laws in a Nuclear Age
A state that has institutionalized religious discrimination and denial of religious freedom is a state whose thinking has not yet entered the 21st century—despite any apparent scientific and technological accomplishments.
Moreover, a state that imposes capital punishment, or the threat thereof, for matters of personal belief is medieval in spirit—one that cannot be entrusted with nuclear capability. Iran’s treatment of Pastor Nadarkhani is bolstering the arguments of those who claim it should not have nuclear weapons..
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