By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Jailed Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces execution for converting from Islam to Christianity, will be soon without a lawyer as his defense attorney has been sentenced to nine years imprisonment, a church official told BosNewsLife late Tuesday, May 8.
“Lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah was detained last week for two hours and [briefly] released. But according to the verdict he is supposed to serve [the sentence] very soon,” said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the detained pastor’s ‘Church of Iran’ house church movement.
Dadkhah, a Muslim, explained earlier that he was convicted “of acting against national security, spreading propaganda” and keeping “banned books” at home.
His expected imprisonment in one of Iran’s notorious prisons “is also bad news for Pastor Nadarkhani’s case,” stressed Khandjani in an interview with BosNewsLife. “He is one of the best lawyers in the country.”
Without the lawyer, it will be even more difficult to prevent the execution of Pastor Nadarkhani, added Khandjani, who himself is hiding citing security reasons.
The controversy also comes at a time when Iran is facing Western sanctions over its nuclear program amid concerns the strict Islamic nation develops nuclear weapons, he noted.
“If [Iran] accepts Western conditions for nuclear research, they may be tempted to suppress more violently [perceived] opponents, including Christians such as Nadarkhani, to compensate for the humiliation and to show they control the situation,” Khandjani said.
The Christian said he “urges the West not to forget the minorities” in negotiations with Iran.
Nadarkhani has been behind bars since 2009 when he was captured in his home city of Rasht to register his house church, which is part of the Church of Iran movement.
He was later sentenced to death, though a court in Gilan province asked a final opinion from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini, a move critics saw as an attempt to make someone else responsible for his execution.
Khandjani confirmed that besides Nadarkhani several other church leaders face long prison terms, including 33-year-old Pastor Farshid Fathi.
After 16 months detention without indictment, judicial authorities sentenced him to six years in prison last month on charges that reportedly included involvement in “illegal” book distribution.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a major advocacy group, quoted a source close to Farshid Fathi and his family as saying that he was sentenced because “the Bibles we brought to the country were seen as a crime.”
The source added that “having more than one Bible or distributing Bibles were seen as a crime, having Christian literature was part of the crime.”
Pastor Fathi is held in Tehran’s feared Evin prison, Christians and rights activists said. “He suffers for the Lord,” Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
Earlier Behnam Irani, a pastor and Church of Iran member, was reportedly told in October that a suspended sentence would be “re-activated” and that he would have to serve five more years behind bars.
Family members of the pastor fear he may die behind bars because of his rapidly deteriorating health and prison mistreatment, an official assisting him
with advocacy told BosNewsLife last month.
Irani, who suffers of several ailments including an intestinal disorder, is “frequently beaten by prisoners under the watchful eye of prison officials,” said Jason DeMars of advocacy group Present Truth Ministry.
He has been held in Ghezel Hesar Prison, just west of Tehran, on charges of “crimes against the Islamic state” apparently linked to his involvement in the unauthorized house church movement.
Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN) also said that authorities have detained Christian worker Noorollah Qabitzade, as part of a wider crackdown on especially Christian converts, including former Muslims.
Qabitzade was reportedly captured in a December 2010 crackdown on Christian worship services and activities and remains in prison in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
Several other Christians are known to be jailed while others face imminent detention on a variety of charges.
Iran government officials have denied wrongdoing, saying the government defends Islamic values, and described Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani as “a criminal” among other terms.