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With pressure mounting, Iranian Supreme Court could rehear pastor’s case
October 13th, 2011
05:12 PM ET

With pressure mounting, Iranian Supreme Court could rehear pastor’s case

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN)–Should Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's case be returned to the Supreme Court of Iran, that country's highest court has agreed to review it, according to the pastor's lawyer.

Mohammad Dadkah, Nadarkhani's lawyer, confirmed the Supreme Court's statement in a Thursday conversation with CNN. The reversal is a minor victory for the two-year-old legal battle; the Supreme Court passed on hearing the case in 2010.

Nadarkhani, the leader of a network of house churches in Iran, was first convicted of apostasy in November 2010 for changing from a Muslim to a Christian. He was sentenced to death.

He subsequently appealed the conviction all the way to the high court. The Supreme Court passed the trial back down to the lower court and, in an appeals trial last month in Gilan province, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs.

Nadarkhani's ordeal has drawn international attention, becoming a cause celebre for a number of Christian organizations in the United States and abroad. Many of these groups took to Facebook, Twitter and their own websites in an attempt to energize their followers to protest the pastor's treatment.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization that has regularly updated its followers on the status of the case, said once the international community got a word of this case, voices were raised high enough that Iran began to feel the pressure.

"I don't credit one group or just Christians even," Sekulow said. "But when the world started speaking out, more and more people heard about Pastor Youcef and voices were raised."

He said the key to the campaign was making the issue about human rights, not religion. Drawing contrast to the ACLJ's activism on other issues of Islam in America, Sekulow said, "This is not about that - it is about a pastor's life and an attorney."

According to a count by the ACLJ, 80 members of Congress have released statements on the issue, in addition to public statements by the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"The United States stands with the international community and all Iranians against the Iranian government's hypocritical statements and actions, and we continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran," stated a release from Clinton.

Other countries have been involved, too. Representatives from The European Union, France, England and Germany have all issued statements asking for the Iranian government to halt the execution.

But according to Harris Zafar, national spokesman for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, it is "unnerving" that one distinct voice is missing from pleas to Iran.

"I think what is really missing is a strong Muslim voice," Zafar said. "I am a bit surprised that there aren't more Muslims up in arms about this. Perhaps it is quiet, passive, acceptance."

He said that putting pressure on Iran is a touchy process, and it takes the right voices to sway the Iranians. Though the Iranian government may not hear one specific organization in America, he said, a surge of voices that includes powerful figures can have an effect.

"When you have people of more known standing in the United States saying something, that has more of a possibility of causing Iran to rethink this," Zafar said. "I don't think an individual sitting in Columbus, Ohio, would have played a role in directly changing their minds."

But don't tell that to the thousands of people who post comments on the Voice of the Martyrs Facebook page. The group's page has become a hub of activity for Americans interested in Christians who are being persecuted abroad. Written prayer is common for the page, with people regularly turning to God via Facebook.

Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, said the group's activity on Facebook has helped.

"I think in terms of people praying for Pastor Youcef, that has had an effect, and I think we are seeing the results of that," Nettleton said. "Iran is a bit hesitant to put this man to death, and I think that is a result of international pressure."

Zafar said that although international pressure like Voice of the Martyrs is helping keep Nadarkhani alive, Iran is probably hoping to delay the case so long that the international community moves on to the next pressing issue.

Iran's hope is that they "delay a little longer so the pressure would die down and they can make a decision under the guise of the dark," he said.

Nettleton said that won't happen.

"We continue to monitor the case and we continue to talk about it on our Facebook page," he said. "One way or another, people are going to know when a verdict is announced."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Iran

soundoff (257 Responses)
  1. Muhammad

    Nowhere in the Quran has it said to kill people.
    It is not up to us to judge anyone.
    “We shall not misinterpret the holy Quran” (Ayatollah Muhammad Rosa Khani”)

    August 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.