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Similar to other highly publicized human rights cases out of Iran, the details of the story have been muddled, in part deliberately caused by the Iranian regime through its state-controlled media. In an effort to distract the media, the Iranian government denied that the charge against Nadarkhani was apostasy, or leaving Islam, and even alleged that he was being held for rape and extortion.
Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and was tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht. He was then given verbal notification of an impending death-by-hanging sentence.
In December, his lawyers appealed the decision, and the case was sent to Iran’s Supreme Court, which by June stated that it upheld the lower court’s decision of execution, provided it could be proven that he had been a practicing Muslim from the age of adulthood, 15 in Islamic law, to age 19, the time when he converted.
In September, the lower court ruled that Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam during his adult life but still upheld the apostasy charge because he was born into a Muslim family. The court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant, as the law requires a man to be given three chances to recant his beliefs and return to Islam.
Apostasy is punishable by death in Shariah law. Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states, “Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death,” and “Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.”
Under this law, a Muslim who converts to Christian is called a mortad, meaning one who leaves Islam. If the convert attempts to convert others, he is called a mortad harbi, or a convert who is waging war against Islam. Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed both by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran’s penal code.
All religious minorities in Iran, including Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, have faced various forms of persecution and political and social marginalization throughout the regime’s 30-year reign. But the government saves its harshest retribution for those who have abandoned Islam.
Experts credit international support of Nadarkhani in keeping him alive. Christian advocacy groups and human rights organizations have mounted numerous global campaigns and petitions against the Iranian government.
If Nadarkhani’s life is spared, it will be because of the international attention the case has received. Yet, what about the others who are not as fortunate to have multiple petitions, Facebook groups and international organizations championing their causes? What about the many who remain vulnerable to the regime’s wrath because they are Christian or Bahai, attended a protest or wrote poetry expressing the yearning for freedom?
In light of recent IAEA reports exposing Iran’s ongoing nuclear ambitions, the regime’s human rights cases become only a sideshow of its ideological and nuclear war against the free world.
While our voices are seldom heard in Washington when we petition our administration to stop its futile attempts at negotiation with or sanctions against Iran’s regime to try to impede its nuclear agenda, we have seen that our actions and voices are being heard as we defend the rights of innocent individuals like Nadarkhani. At the same time, our attention and focus should again be turned toward our biggest ally against the Iranian regime — its people.
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