>Iran pressures pastor to “recant” Christian faith
>Wife was earlier detained
>Sentence part of wider crackdown
>Number Christians still growing
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence of an Iranian pastor for leaving Islam and he was under pressure Saturday, July 2, to recant his faith in Christ, trial observers told BosNewsLife.
Yousef Nadarkhani, 33, had appealed to the Supreme Court after he was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, by the Revolutionary Tribunal of Iran’s Gilan Province.
Advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), which closely followed the case, said his lawyers have yet to receive written confirmation of the Supreme Court’s June 22 ruling, “but understand that the [death] sentence could be implemented at any time, unless he recants his Christian faith.”
Yousef, who has been detained since October 2009, is pastor of the evangelical ‘Church of Iran’ house church network in the northern city of Rasht.
Authorities have been cracking down on house churches as many of those attending worship services are former Muslims with Christians being arrested across the country, Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife.
Yousef’s wife, Fatemeh, was detained last year for her involvement in the church from June 8 to October 11, said her supporters, who also expressed concerns about the future of the couple’s two young sons.
The last known judicial execution of a Christian for apostasy in Iran occurred in December 1990 when Reverend Hossein Soodmand was hanged.
MEC said Iranian Christians urged the international community to pray that “Yousef will not be executed [and] that he will know the presence and peace of Jesus [and] that Fatemeh and the two boys will know the comfort and hope of Jesus, and that the family will be reunited soon.”
In an appeal, Iranian Christians said they also prayed that “Christians throughout Iran will not be intimidated but will know the Lord’s enabling and guidance” and that all “officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.”
The case has been linked to concern within Iran’s government about the spread of Christianity among Muslims.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government has defended harsh sentences, including executions of political opponents and Christians, as part of defending the values of the Islamic state.
Rights activists say however Ahmadinejad is concerned about the spread of Christianity among Muslims at a time of political upheaval in the Arab world. “Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world,” said Elam Ministries, a group of Iranian church leaders in a recent assessment.
It claimed that the number of Christians has grown from 500 known believers in 1979 to at least 100,000 today. Church leaders have reportedly said that “millions” can be added “to the church in the next few years-such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime.”