Around the world, 6.5 billion people—85% of the world’s population—live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom. Among the world’s worst offenders is Iran, where the government systematically targets Sunni Muslims, Sufis, Baha’is, Christians and Jews with arbitrary detention, harassment and imprisonment for following their faith.
Youcef Nadarkhani, an evangelical pastor and a Muslim convert to Christianity, is one such Iranian who, today, sits in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for simply living according to his conscience. That is why, as people of faith and as strong advocates for the freedom of religion or belief abroad, we have partnered to advocate on Pastor Nadarkhani’s behalf—to call for his immediate release and to shed light on the egregious conditions facing religious minorities throughout Iran.
One year ago, armed men raided Pastor Nadarkhani’s home in the middle of the night, beat him, committed violent acts against his family and then hauled him off to jail, where he remains today. The arrest came after the government accused and tried Nadarkhani in 2016 on charges of promoting “Zionist Christianity” and “acting against national security.”
Iranian authorities have long harassed Pastor Nadarkhani: detaining him for “apostasy” and “evangelism” in 2006; arresting him for protesting government policy mandating Qur’anic study for his children, who are Christian, in 2009; and arresting him and his wife, Fatemah Pasandideh, in 2010. After the 2010 arrest, the Court of Appeals in Gilan determined that Pastor Nadarkhani had committed apostasy and sentenced him to execution by hanging. The sentence sparked an international outcry that led to Pastor Nadarkhani’s acquittal in a retrial. This international attention, however, did not bring an end to his harassment, and in fact led to the imprisonment of his legal counsel, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.
Iran’s treatment of Christians like Youcef Nadarkhani has long merited our attention and condemnation, but it is getting worse. The government increasingly accuses Christians of espionage and disloyalty, despite their formal protection under the constitution and long history in the country.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Douglas Lamborn and Nadine Maenza