- (Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is refuting a recent report that Iran has possibly changed its apostasy death sentence for evangelical Christian Youcef Nadarkhani, who was arrested and imprisoned in Oct. 2009 for his faith.
The ACLJ, which has been heavily involved in the pastor's case, says that although a new report from Present Truth Ministries indicates that perhaps Nadarkhani's charges have been changed from apostasy to crimes against national security, the international community must be aware of Iran's possible dishonesty.
"We have no information that the regime has acquitted Pastor Youcef of the apostasy charge for which he was sentenced to death. The Iranian regime has been dishonest repeatedly in the past. Until we see Pastor Youcef walk freely, we cannot trust anything the regime might say or do," Jordan Sekulow, executive council for the ACLJ, told The Christian Post via email Friday.
The confusion began when Present Truth Ministries, which has also been closely monitoring Nadarkhani's case, received word that Nadarkhani's new trial has been set for Sept. 8, and that he is presumably being tried for crimes against national security.
"We assume by implication that this means the charges of apostasy have been dropped since the new charges have been issued, but we have no confirmation of that," the ministry said Thursday.
The ACLJ continues to argue, however, that no evidence of a change in charges has occurred and the international community must still acknowledge Nadarkhani's death sentence.
"We want to dispel any rumors that [Nadarkhani's] current apostasy charge, for which he was sentenced to death, has been removed. Until the regime unconditionally exonerates and releases Pastor Youcef, his apostasy charge stands," Sekulow told CP on Friday.
"It has always been a possibility that the regime could bring new or additional charges against Pastor Youcef to justify its actions. But to speculate that new, unconfirmed charges also means the regime removed the threat of death creates a danger that the world will stop paying attention," he added.
Nadarkhani, a house pastor, was arrested in Oct. 2009 and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.
In Sept. 2011, Iran's semi-official news agency, Fars News, reported that Nadarkhani was on trial for charges of rape, extortion, and Zionism, The Christian Post previously reported.
Leaked court documents later clarified that Nadarkhani was in fact on trial for apostasy, and critics suspected the faulted Fars News report to be an attempt to alleviate international pressure regarding Nadarkhani's religion-based charges.
Nadarkhani continues to await his Sept. 8 court date in prison, while his wife, Fatema Pasindedih, and his two sons, await further news.
His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, also awaits further news on his legal fate, as a judge notified him in May that he was being sentenced to nine years in prison for crimes against national security.
Dadkhah has yet to be arrested, and critics speculate that this was a threat on behalf of the Iranian government to intimidate Dadkhah and perhaps deter his desire to legally represent Nadarkhani.