A tragic denial of religious freedom

Youcef Nadarkhani is being forced to choose between his religious faith and his life.

Mr. Nadarkhani is a Christian pastor in Iran. He was sentenced to death by the Iranian government for apostasy: the crime of converting to Christianity.
Clearly, religious freedom does not exist in Iran.

In contrast, freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in our country. It is easy to forget that there are parts of the world where the government decides what people can believe. For us, the notion that the government could execute someone for their religious beliefs is unimaginable. We know from experience that we are made stronger by respecting freedom of religion.

Mr. Nadarkhani has spent three years in prison, separated from his wife and children. He was told by the Iranian government that he would be freed if he renounced his faith. Mr. Nadarkhani has courageously refused to do so on three separate occasions.

Iran now denies that they have sentenced Nadarkhani to death. They have added additional charges against him after the fact. This is nothing less than an effort to save face in response to the international outcry surrounding this unjust sentence.

This is a clear violation of Nadarkhani’s human rights. This is made all the more obvious by the fact that Nadarkhani hurt nobody by sharing his faith.
Ominously, Iran has a history of quick and secretive executions. In the past, the families of those executed have only found out about their loved-one’s death when a body is dropped off at their doorstep.

Iran is already under heavy sanctions and international pressure regarding their nuclear program and the violent statements of their leaders. The last thing they need is to violate human rights further by persecuting Youcef Nadarkhani for his faith.

As Iran grows more and more isolated and international pressure grows, it will hopefully become clear to Iran that releasing Nadarkhani is not only the right thing to do, but could earn them a small measure of goodwill, something that is currently in short supply.

Youcef Nadarkhani’s courage has led to him receiving world wide support. A twitter campaign in support of Youcef’s release has over 1 million supporters from over 89 per cent of the world’s nations. Clearly, people of all beliefs can see the deep injustice of Nadarkhani’s persecution.

This is about a fundamental freedom, we all deserve to share our beliefs and it is important for Iran to listen to the message the world is sending.

Beyond the clear injustice of this trial, we can reflect on the fact that Youcef Nadarkhanis has stood true to his beliefs in the face of imprisonment and death.

His courage in response to this tragic choice forced upon him can be an example for us all. Imagine you were faced with this choice: Renounce everything you believe in, or die.

It is often easier or more popular to go along with what everyone else is doing and we know that it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs.
When you face a moment where you are asked to compromise who you truly are, perhaps the story of Youcef Nadarkhani can give you strength.

Spencer Fernando is the comment editor for the Manitoban.