The mistreatment of Pastor Yousef while awaiting a decision on his death sentence for refusing to recant his faith, amounts to physical and psychological torture, and is in deteriorating health, a source close to the pastor’s family said. Compass Direct News reports that Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani, sentenced to death a year ago after a court of appeals in Rasht, Iran, found him guilty of leaving Islam in September 2010.
A member of Nadarkhani’s denomination, the Church of Iran, who requested anonymity, said that communication with Nadarkhani is limited, but that sources close to the imprisoned Christian indicated he has undergone physical and psychological torture. “We know that he has been in extreme situations. When you have spent time in a solitary cell unable to talk to others for a long time, or you are told you will be killed, is also torture.” Authorities have also continued to pressure Nadarkhani to recant his faith while in prison.
The court in Rasht was expected to pronounce a verdict on Nadarkhani’s appeal last month but instead sent the Christian’s case to the nation’s Islamic authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, to make a ruling. One Compass source reported that a number of Iranian Christians believe that, in the face of international outrage over the case, the government would announce a verdict near the Christmas holidays so that it would receive less notice. On Nov. 10, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reported that a verdict on Nadarkhani’s case was expected in mid-December, regardless of whether there is a ruling by Khamenei.
Another wave of arrests is expected this December and January, a favorite time for Iranian authorities to make the rounds at Christian house group meetings, according to the Church of Iran source. He said the best Christmas gift for Iranian Christians this year would be for Western powers and Christians to continue to lobby for their freedoms. Historically, the Iranian government has cracked down on Christians during the Christmas season, when house group members gather in larger numbers. Last year in a two-month period over the holidays, authorities arrested more than 120 Christians belonging to Iran’s underground church. All of those arrested have been released, with a few known exceptions.
One of those arrested, Farshid Fathi, 32, has been in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran since Dec. 26, 2010. He has spent much of that time in solitary confinement and has been mistreated, according to Mohabat News. Noorollah Ghabitizadeh (also spelled Qabitizade) has been in prison since Dec. 24, 2010. Authorities originally held him in Dezful and later transferred him to Ahwaz as punishment for starting a Bible study at the Dezful prison, Mohabat News reported. On Oct. 17 authorities arrested another Christian convert, Fariborz Arazm, 44, according to Mohabat News. His whereabouts and condition are unknown. Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing the continual degradation of human rights in Iran and the unwillingness of the government to espouse international human rights practices.
Father, today we lift up Pastor Yousef as he waits a decision on his death sentence. And we pray for others who remain in prison. Protect their bodies from attack and from disease and illness. Protect their hearts and minds from doubt and discouragement. Soften the hearts of authorities to release him. While leaders in Iran would call for his death, overrule. And protect Christians during the Christmas season as they gather together to celebrate the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago. May the name of Jesus be lifted high in Iran and, indeed in all the earth! In the name of Jesus, our advocate, Amen.