International Focus Can Lead to Release of Prisoners of Conscience
Release of Pastor Nadarkhani Result of Widespread International Concern
(September 11, 2012) The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran welcomed the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and said that cross-regional international attention from UN mechanisms, media, governments, and civil society and human rights organizations to the dire situation of human rights in Iran can indeed bring positive results.
“The international community can play a vital role in urging Iranian authorities to end their unfair and ill treatment of prisoners of conscience. Nadarkhani received widespread focus, and we see he has been released. Now is the time to keep the focus on all other prisoners of conscience, particularly protest leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi,” Campaign spokesperson Hadi Ghaemi said.
On September 8, 2012, the Iranian Judiciary acquitted Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor accused of apostasy in 2009 and sentenced to death, of his apostasy charge. In addition, the Judiciary acquitted him of recent charges of “banditry and extortion,” which had been added to his case in mid-August 2012.
“At the court session on Saturday, Youcef Nadarkhani was acquitted of the charge of ‘apostasy,’ as well as the new charge of ‘extortion.’ He was only sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of ‘propaganda against the regime,’ and as he had already spent this time in prison, he was therefore released after his court session,” Nadarkhani’s lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told the Campaign.
Iranian officials had maintained in international forums, such as the UN Human Rights Council, that Nadarkhani was not in prison for apostasy, but rather for other reasons. In March 2012, the head of the Iranian Human Rights Council Mohamad Javad Larijani defended Nadarkhani’s prosecution and insisted that his sentencing was fair and justified.
Hundreds more Iranian prisoners of conscience could be released if they had access to free and fair trials and if the Iranian Judiciary could act independently from the intelligence apparatus, which routinely dictates its political agenda on cases related to freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion.
Larijani and other Iranian Judiciary and intelligence officials have made false claims about political prisoners and have never provided any proof for them. Only when international pressure becomes intense on a particular case are these officials forced to recant their claims.
The release of a number of prisoners of conscience like Roxana Saberi (2010), Haleh Esfandiari (2007), the American hikers Sarah Shourd (2010), Shane Bauer (2011), and Joshua Fattal (2011), and many others who were faced with harsh charges like espionage but released after the international community shed constant light on their cases, shows the political nature of such arrests, harassment, and lack of due process in Iran.
Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old pastor, was born to Muslim parents. He converted to Christianity at the age of 19. Before his arrest on charges of apostasy in October 2009, Nadarkhani led a congregation of about 400 Christians in Rasht. The congregation is part of a nationwide evangelical group called the Church of Iran, many of whose members have been arrested and prosecuted since 2009. Nadarkhani’s death sentence was upheld by Branch 11 of Gilan Province Appeals Court on August 23, 2010. The Supreme Court overruled his sentence on June 28, 2011, on the condition that he repent, but Nadarkhani refused to repent and leave Christianity and so his sentence remained.
“Nadarkhani’s acquittal and release is a stellar example of the positive influence of international pressure. The international community must continue to hold Iranian authorities accountable for their imprisonment of all other prisoners of conscience,” Ghaemi said.