09/08/2012, 00.00
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Iranian Protestant pastor, sentenced to death for apostasy, is released

Judges have dropped the charges against Youcef Nadarkhani in prison since 2009. He was, however, convicted of "evangelizing Muslims." Based on the three-year sentence, he already served the time and should now be released. Satisfaction among the members of the Church of Iran.

Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An Iranian court has ordered the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in prison since October 2009 and sentenced to death for apostasy with the sentence suspended but not canceled in July of last year (see AsiaNews 21/07 / 2011 Tehran suspended, not canceled, the death sentence for conversion of a shepherd). This is a turning point in the course of a story that had long made may fear for the fate of the 35 year-old Christian. On the eve of the hearing today, in fact, many hypothesized a new trial and fresh charges against the man, based on "perfectly fabricated" crime to prolong his sentence, according to the complaint of many activists. In an interview with BosNewsLife the church to which the pastor belonged, instead confirmed the "positive" change in the course of events.

The pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was acquitted of "apostasy," but found guilty of "evangelizing Muslims." He was sentenced for this to three years in prison, but has already served this, given that he has been in prison since October 2009. For this reason he will be released, sources of the Church of Iran added. The positive outcome is "an answer to our prayers," said Firouz Khandjani, another member of the Protestant movement, adding that Youcef could leave his cell "by the late afternoon."

In recent days, the network of activists Farsi Christian Network had spoken of the possibility of new charges against the man, including "banditry and extortion" that would have replaced the previous count of indictment for "apostasy." Following strong protests from the international community for the condemnation, the Iranian authorities - explained the Christian activists - want to influence the case by "mounting arbitrary charges" and thus "increasing concern" about his fate.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 35, (he was born in 1977), a member of the Church of Iran was arrested Oct. 13, 2009 in the city of Rasht as he tried to legally register his church. It is believed that his arrest was caused by his position, critical of the Islamic religious monopoly on the education of children in Iran. He was initially accused of protests, but later the charges were changed into that of apostasy and the evangelization of Muslims.

Iranian civil law does not provide the crime of apostasy, even if authorities have discussed passing such a law for some time. In the case of Pastor Nadarkhani, which has been described as "distorted" and "extrajudicial", it seems that there was political pressure on judges, who were divided on the sentence. The court apparently used art. 167 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that if the judges do not find the basis for a decision in civil law then they should "cite Islamic reliable sources or a valid fatwa to arrive at a judgment and issue a verdict."


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