Iran (MNN) ― Reports of the imminent execution of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani are now being countered by news of delay.
Spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says the latest information he's heard is still being confirmed. "There is a report from an Israeli media outlet saying that the execution has been postponed. It's unclear when it will happen. The other part of this report that has new information to me is that it was scheduled to take place today (February 28), but it was postponed indefinitely."
There are other stories indicating there was actually no execution order and that Nadarkhani was being held for rape and "other crimes," not apostasy. (Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states, "Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death," and "Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.") Naturally, the changing details beg the question, "Is this a campaign of misinformation?"
"There are so many different pieces of information coming from different directions, that it's hard to know what is real and what is not real," Nettleton notes. It could discredit future reports coming out of Iran. Who benefits from discrediting the stories? The bigger question, says Nettleton, is: "What role does the Iranian government play in this? They have a history of not being transparent with the rest of the world as far as what's going on inside Iran. So it is interesting to wonder if they are perhaps playing with this information as a way to try to gauge: 'How is the world going to respond if we do this?'"
However, delay could be a response to the international scrutiny, too. "When it comes to some of the European countries, those countries can have sway on Iranian public policy. The Iranian government does tend to pay attention to what they're saying. In this case, many of them are also sounding the chorus that a person should not be executed for their religious beliefs."
The American Center for Law and Justice added their voice the chorus of concern. "If a human being becomes a bargaining chip for the ayatollah, that's not a situation that will lead to anything positive," says ACLJ's executive director, Jordan Sekulow.
Nettleton says the lack of movement could also signal an acknowledgement of the conundrum Iran's judiciary faces. If the court releases the pastor, it denies Sharia law, risking the wrath of Muslims in Iran. If they execute him, they face the displeasure of the international community, which includes dozens of human rights groups, the White House, members of Congress, leaders from the European Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico and Germany.
Trying to find a way out of the dilemma, the court gave Nadarkhani a chance to recant and return to Islam, but he refused. His story reveals a distress the government can't ignore. Nettleton explains, "The government is responding with lethal force in this particular situation because the church is growing in a way that the government can't understand and can't control. They see putting someone to death as saying, 'This will put a stop to Muslims leaving Islam to follow Christ.'"
The paradox of persecution, says Nettleton, is met by prayer. "There is an incredible hunger for the Gospel. There is an incredible openness to hear about Jesus Christ. We need to pray that there will be ministries and people and workers who will work in those harvest fields."
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Source: Mission Network News