The trial and punishment of Yousef Nadarkhani

Is a man to be executed for "apostasy"?

Yousef Nadarkhani is a Christian pastor living in Iran, and it is reported that he is about to be hanged.

He had a particular interest in promoting Christian education, even though Iran is a country where Islamic schools are the norm. One day, nearly two years ago, he was arrested.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) :

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, of the Church of Iran denomination, was arrested in his home city of Rasht on 13 October 2009 while attempting to register his church. His arrest is believed to have been due to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.

Once arrested, the predicament of Nadarkhani worsened considerably. To again quote CSW:

He was initially charged with protesting; however the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims.

Of course, one does not have to be a critic of faith-based education or of religious belief generally (I am both) to see such an arrest and charge as fundamentally illiberal. To any Western observer, these things are not a matter for the criminal law, or indeed for any other form of coercion.

Nonetheless, Nadarkhani is convicted of apostasy by the Court in Rasht in September 2010. And this is where the case takes a deeply disturbing turn, for the court then proceeded to sentence him to death.

The full judgment (in an unofficial translation) was as follows:

According to the indictment No: 89/4/3-2080, issued by the public persecutor office of Rasht, Mr Yousef Nadarkhani, son of Biram, 32 years old and married, temporary in general prison since 28/7/1388, charged with the denial of the prophethood of the great prophet of Islam, that It has resulted in inherent apostasy from the holy religion of Islam after he has accepted it at the age of maturity until the age of 19.

The brief definition of what has taken place is that the mentioned-above person was born in 1356 from Muslim parents and according to his own statements in primary investigations, he has accepted Islam and obeyed its commandments from the age of puberty, and at the age of 19 he has converted from Islam to Christianity officially.

He has frequently denied the prophethood of the great prophet of Islam and the rule of the sacred religion of Islam. And he has proven his apostasy by organizing evangelistic meetings and inviting others to Christianity, establishing a house church, baptizing people, expressing his faith to others and, denying Islamic values.

After his arrest, during investigations, most of the time he has proven his return from Islam and denying the rule of Islam over all the religions in his own handwritten bills to The Assize Court of the province of Gilan. Even in his last defense on the date of 24/12/1388, when he was asked, "from the age of puberty until the age of 19, what religion have you had?"

He replied that "Since I was born in a Muslim family, I was Muslim until I converted to Christianity at the age of 19. In the other persecutor's question with this content that " do you admit that you were Muslim from the age of puberty and you converted to Christianity after passing the age of 19?" He replied he was Muslim from the age of puberty till he converted to Christianity in 19 years of age.

He was questioned once again that "do you believe in the elements of Islam which are the unity of God, resurrection of the dead and the prophethood of great Mohammad?" He answered "I believe in the unity of God and the resurrection of the dead but not the prophethood of great Mohammad."

After the issuance of culpability and indictment, the case has been sent to the courts that referred it to this section. Dr. Naser Sarbazi and Mr. Abbas Salmanpoor were appointed as the accused's attorneys, the court proceeded with the case after the formalities were carried out. The representative of the public persecutor office of Rasht read the issued indictment, and according to it, apostasy is a crime according to theologians of Islam even though there is a punishment for it in the laws of Islamic Republic of Iran. With regard to the Article 167 of The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Article 3 of Civil procedure of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal, and the Article 105 of the Islamic Judicial system of Iran.

After the court caused him to understand the charge, the above-named person initially declined the charge by saying he has not have any particular religion after passing the puberty age till the age of 19, and converted to Christianity officially by believing that it is the only truth.

When he was asked by the court that why he has repeatedly stated during interrogations that " Since I was born in a Muslim family, I have been Muslim after passing the puberty age until I converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19". He answered " The persecutor induced me to believe whoever is born from Muslim parents and does not choose any religions after passing the puberty age, is a Muslim. That is why I have stated so."

The accused's attorneys in addition to repeating their client's defense, stated that, "Since there is no punishment specified in the Islamic Judicial system of Iran and other penal laws and therefore their client has not committed a crime to deserve a punishment. Secondly: Their client has not accepted Islam from the beginning of the puberty age to become an apostate by returning from it. Thirdly: Their client does not deny the prophethood of the great prophet of Islam as he has stated in his bills to The Assize Court of the province of Gilan that, he believes in great Mohammad as the great prophet of Islam. Fourthly: due to existance of not proven evidence regarding this case, the attorneys have requested a not guilty verdict for their client. in response to the court, that whether the accused believes in the prophethood of great Mohammad son of Abdullah as a prophet from almighty God for the salvation of humanity or not, he said, " I have stated in the written bills that he is the prophet of Muslims but not a messenger from God, I am saved for not studying Islam, and I will never speak of Islamic testimonies to convert to Islam.

After hearing of the indictment by the public persecutor, the accused denied his apostasy charge in his last defense, and committed the remaining defense to his attorneys' hands.

The attorneys have pleaded a not guilty verdict for their client by repeating the same previous defense. objections affected on the trial somehow one member of the jury left during the trial. even though some jury members, in the first day 30/6/89 and second day 31/6/89 of the trial, specified that the court has not accepted the objections after termination of the trial, and answers to the objections have been written.

As a result, with regard to 1- The reports of the intelligence bureau of Gilan as the executive office of the Judicial system. 2- The accused's explicit and indisputable writings with the content that he has accepted Islam at the age of maturity, and quitted it at the age of 19. 3- organizing evangelistic gatherings and admitting establishments of house churches. 4- the accused's unreasonable and not proven defense, that he has not enter Islam to quit it. 5- his written bills from prison to the investigator in charge of the case that confirm his statements in the intelligence bureau. 6- and other elements that exist in the case such as attorney's unreasonable defense that their client's denial of prophethood of the great prophet of Islam has not been due to enmity and malice with Islam but because of the anger and pressure he has been bearing.

It has been proven to the members of the jury that Mr Youcef Nadarkhani, son of Biram, has been born from Muslim parents, have chosen Islam, and quitted it at the age 19.

His actions according to the fatwas of all Shia theologians is considered as inherent apostasy from the sacred religion of Islam. With regard to the Article 167 of The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Article 3 of Civil procedure of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Article 8 of The law of Establishment of the General and Revolutionary Courts, Article 105 of the Islamic Judicial system of Iran, Article 8 from the book of Tahrir Alvasilah Fi Sofat Alghazi Va Maianaseb Lah, Fatwas of theologians including Imam and the supreme leader and grand ayatollahs Mohammad Reza Golpayegani, Safi, Makarem Shirazi, Behjat Foumani, and pages of 103 till 109 of his file, the above-mentioned person as an apostate will be executed by being hung until somehow his soul is taken from him. The sentence is attendant and appealable at the supreme court 20 days after when It has been delivered.

So the death sentence -- "the above-mentioned person as an apostate will be executed by being hung somehow until his soul is taken from him" -- is not even based on codified Iranian law; it is based instead on Fatwas. Furthermore the death sentence does not even warrant more than a cursory mention: not even a full sentence in the unofficial English translation.

This case then goes to the Iranian Supreme Court on appeal in July 2011. By now, Nadarkhani is represented by the renowned and fearless Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, clearly one of the most admirable lawyers in the world, who is himself currently appealing a sentence of nine years' imprisonment.

The (brief) judgment of the Supreme Court, again in unofficial translation:

Mr Yousef Nadarkhani son of Bayram, a 34 year-old from Rasht became Muslim at the age of maturity is convicted of denying Mohammad and left Islam. He was born in 1356 of Muslim parents, and according to the investigation he was practicing Islam and keeping the commandments after the age of maturity. He converted and accepted Christianity officially at the age of 19 in the year 1375. He frequently denied Islam and Mohammad during the investigations. Also he proselytized others and invited them to the house church, baptized them and expressed his beliefs and his pervertedness. He expressed his faith in Christianity in the court before investigators and his lawyers.

According to the statements of the defendant and Khomeini's book prevision 8, sentences of other Imams, Khamenei and Makaremshirazi, the court convicted him and his sentence is hanging by rope. The sentence is contestable, his lawyers protested and the file has been transferred to the Supreme Court and has referred to this branch.

Verdict: Mr Yousef Nadarkhani confessed that he converted to Christianity and helped other people to convert and named himself a shepherd and insisted in Christianity, He doesn't believe in Mohammad, Imams and the Quran. The contents of the file also support these facts but the investigation is needed to prove that he was a Muslim after the age of maturity and practicing Islam, there is not any witness from friends, relatives, family and Muslim people who were in contact with him so the file is incomplete. According to the sentence of Imams such as Khomeini, the witness is needed to prove whether or not he was a Muslim and if he was a Muslim but remained unwilling to repent, the execution ruling is to be issued.

The file is incomplete and sent back to the same branch for reconsideration.

However, a contact of CSW has claimed that the proceedings in Iran took a further horrifying turn on Sunday:

Following investigation, the court in Rasht has ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry.

Pastor Nadarkhani's lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has made it clear to the court that the repeated demand for recanting is against both Iranian law and the constitution.

The court replied that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand.

So we are told Nadarkhani was given four opportunities to recant.

We are also told that three times he has refused, and that his final chance is today.

There is no news yet on what happened. No one is available at the Iranian Embassy to comment.

And so, if the CSW and their contact are correct, a man will shortly "be executed by being hung until somehow his soul is taken from him", and this will be because he will not recant his religion.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Meet the ex-footballers launching a support network for victims of sexual abuse in the sport

The Offside Trust is set up after hundreds have come forward, and 55 football clubs have been linked to allegations of abuse.

In a sumptuous room inside a luxurious hotel in the centre of Manchester, the country’s media anxiously await the arrival of a man whose story has rocked English football to its very foundations.

Since Andy Woodward went public with allegations that he experienced sexual abuse as a young footballer in the 1980s, the nation’s favourite sport has been left in crisis and, in the process, forced to do some soul-searching.

Following Woodward’s story, a number of his peers have also come forward with tales of unimaginable suffering.

This week, some of those men have joined together to launch the Offside Trust, an independently-run body aiming to provide support to players and the families of those who have suffered sexual abuse in football and other sports.

According to Woodward and his colleagues, the Trust won’t just be a way to help those who have been abused while playing the sport they love, but also represents a direct response to institutions that, in their view, have failed to protect them.

“A number of people who have come forward have indicated that they don’t have trust in the establishment,” says Edward Smethurst from Prosperity Law LLP, a Manchester law firm in charge of administering the trust.

“We are not here to criticise any of the establishment bodies, but we do have to respect the sensibilities and the opinions of the victims.” 

Wearing a crisp blue suit, hair combed neatly into place, Woodward’s composed demeanour masks the tremendous emotional stress he has revealed to the world he had to endure for decades, in silence until now.

Hearing him retell his story time and again, it is evident that, although exhausting, this process of letting the world know the horrors he says he experienced as a boy is both cathartic and a way to help others.

“I’m totally overwhelmed, the emotions are just unreal,” he says. “I can’t believe how many [people] have come forward, but I just encourage more and more [people] to have that strength and have that belief to do it.”

Sitting beside Woodward is Steve Walters – a former football prodigy whose career was cut short due to a blood disorder – who says he fell prey to the same serial child molester as Woodard. The person in question can no longer be named for legal reasons.

Walters tells me how his story has affected every aspect of his life. “It has ruined marriages, the relationship with my children, flashbacks, lack of sleep, panic attacks,” he tells me.

Walters speaks of “injustices” done to him for the past 20 years by those in charge of the sport he once loved. But he also knows how he would like to start turning the page and move on with his life.

“An apology [from Crewe Football Club] would be a start,” he says. “For them to not even put out one small apology, it does hurt.”

Since Woodward’s allegations were first made public on 16 November, 18 police forces across the country are now investigating claims of historic sexual abuse in football.

Every player I speak to at the Offside Trust launch in Manchester describes this as an epidemic, and that, in modern Britain, some children are still at the mercy of paedophiles operating within the sport. 

“I do believe it’s happening,” says Jason Dunford, who also claims to have been abused at Crewe Alexandra. “I believe it’s happening on a lower scale than when we were children, but as a father of a young boy who is around the football industry at the moment, I still have worries.”

Woodward coming forward has had worldwide implications. Walters and Dunford tell me they have been contacted by players as far-flung as South America and Australia who say they have been through the same ordeal as young footballers. The men are adamant this is not a UK problem, but a football one – wherever the game is played.

Woodward is mentally drained. Prior to the interview, he repeatedly tells me how the whirlwind of the last few weeks has affected his health. But he knows that this is his chance, perhaps the only one he’ll get, to help those like him.

“The closure will be when I feel like I’m satisfied that I have done everything I can to help as many people out there as possible,” he says. “People with children in football need protecting.” 

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.