Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor accused of apostasy will be put on a new trial on August 27. Naderkhani, who refused to repent from being a Christian in earlier judicial proceedings and faces a death sentence, is now facing the new charges of “banditry and extortion.”
The Christian pastor’s earlier charges were “apostasy” and “converting to Christianity,” but the new charges of “banditry and extortion” were first mentioned last year on Fars News Agency. A source close to the case of Youcef Naderkhani who wishes to remain anonymous on security grounds told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that, “Mr. Naderkhani’s ‘banditry’ charges are fundamentally meaningless; he is not a thief or a bandit. This is a new accusation leveled against him for unknown reasons.”
Youcef Naderkhani, 33, was born to Muslim parents and converted to Christianity at the age of 19. Prior to his arrest, he led a congregation of about 400 Christians in the Northern city of Rasht. Nadarkhani’s death sentence on charges of apostasy was upheld by Branch 11 of Gilan Province’s Appeals Court on August 23, 2010. On June 28, 2011, Iran’s Supreme Court overturned the ruling, but made the decision conditional on Naderkhani’s repentance. There were three court sessions between September 25 and September 28, 2011 in which Youcef Naderkhani was asked to repent and he refused. Nadarkhani is currently in detention inside Rasht Prison.
On September 30, 2011, the charge of “extortion” was mentioned for the first time on Fars News Agency’s website in a news article about Nadarkhani. The article claimed that Youcef Naderkhani is accused of rape and repeated extortion. “Youcef Naderkhani has [committed] security crimes and had set up a house of corruption. This individual is a criminal and his crime is not inviting some to the religion of Christianity, but he has security crimes. Nadarkhani’s death sentence has been issued for security crimes,” Fars quoted Gholamali Rezvani, Deputy Governor of Guilan for Security.