“Speak up and pray out loud”
Catholic charity head appeals on behalf of Iranian pastor
By John Pontifex
THE UK director of a Catholic charity is appealing for prayer and action to spare the life of an Iranian pastor who faces execution for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, who leads Aid to the Church in Need UK, called for Christians to “speak up and pray out loud” as a decision is awaited following the retrial of Yusuf Nadarkhani.
Mr Nadarkhani, 35, who is married with two children, was sentenced to death in September 2010 when he was found guilty of apostasy.
An appeal was subsequently lodged and, despite upholding the original sentence, the Supreme Court agreed that the case be re-opened.
A verdict is expected imminently after last week’s four-day trial.
Commenting on the case, Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “There needs to be a voice for the silent and suffering Church – and for over 60 years Aid to the Church in Need has spoken out when others have feared to do so.
“Now is the time to speak up and pray out loud for Christians placed in a stranglehold by oppression.
“The decision to execute Pastor Nadarkhani is not justifiable in the name of any religion, it is a totalitarian act – one man’s life being ended to dissuade others from opposing the political regime.
“All who love God – whatever their faith – must join in prayer that this decision be overturned.
“The Catholic community must not be struck dumb as such suffering goes on.”
According to sources in Iran, it is the first time in 20 years that the death sentence had been handed down for such a case.
Middle East experts described the ruling as unconstitutional.
Iran’s Supreme Court has said Mr Nadarkhani’s sentence would be overturned if he renounced his Christian faith.
During the court case last week Mr Nadarkhani reportedly refused to do so twice.
Mr Nadarkhani, a Protestant, is reported to have converted to Christianity aged 19.
His defendants stress that before that he was not a practising Muslim.
But during his trial the prosecution argued that the case against him rested strongly on his Islamic ancestry.
The clergyman was arrested in October 2009 while attempting to register his church in his home city of Rashat.
Last week, Gholam-Ali Rezvani, the deputy governor of the province in northern Iran where the case was heard, accused Mr Nadarkhani of being a “Zionist” and “committing security crimes”.
But the pastor’s lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, continued to insist he was “95 percent certain” his client would be acquitted even though sources close to the case warned that the Iranian authorities may hang the Christian to deter others from following his example.
In its 2011 publication, ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith’, ACN notes that Christians in Iran have plummeted from 100,000 in the mid-1970s to barely 15,000.
During that time, the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeni has taken root and given fresh impetus under the hard-line regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ongoing – and in many respects intensifying – culture of intolerance towards non Shiite Muslims, especially Christians and Bahais, explains the haemorrhaging number of Christians since the 1979 revolution.
Aid to the Church in Need provides help for a number of Christian communities in Iran.
Detailed information about ACN projects in Iran cannot be given in case it compromises the safety of those involved.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148.
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