INT'L DIGEST: Iran pastor to be executed?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Christians in Iran have challenged news reports that the death penalty for pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been annulled, saying that in reality the country's supreme court appears to have added a precondition requiring him to renounce his faith or face execution.

"There has still been no written confirmation of the court's decision on Pastor Nadarkhani's appeal against a death sentence for apostasy, despite efforts to source this," according to a July 5 statement from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization.

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while attempting to register his church. His arrest is believed to have been due to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran, the CSW statement said. He initially was charged with protesting; however, the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Nadarkhani, Mr Dadkhah and their families at this uncertain time," said Andrew Johnston, advocacy director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "CSW is gravely concerned about the judicial process in Pastor Nadarkhani's case and the precondition to recant his faith.

Johnston said CSW is again urging "the Iranian regime to respect the stipulations of international treaties to which it is party, including the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one's religion or belief.... The international community must act urgently to press Iran to ensure ... that Pastor Nadarkhani in particular is acquitted of a charge that is not in fact recognized under Iranian civil law."

U.S. DRAWDOWN COULD HURT AFGHAN CHRISTIANS -- An American troop drawdown in Afghanistan could spell doom for the country's Christian minority, an Afghan exile warned in late June, as President Barack Obama announced his plans for phased troop withdrawal.

"If U.S. troops are not in Afghanistan the Taliban will come to power," Obaid S. Christ told World Magazine. "We will have the same situation we had in the 1990s when the Russians left Afghanistan, when we had civil war and millions [were] killed."

The U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai has been no friend to Christian converts either, said the exile, who changed his name and fled Afghanistan in 2007 when an Islamic court issued an arrest warrant after he publicly decided to follow Christ. Two civilian courts sentenced two Afghan Christians to death earlier this year for changing their religion. They were released and allowed to leave the country after international pressure was exerted on Karzai's government.

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SOFT-PEDAL SHALIT CASE -- Five years after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants, 12 prominent human rights organizations released a statement that called only for improving the conditions of his imprisonment, not demanding his release.

The statement, which was posted on the website of Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org, only called on Hamas to "immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit of Israel and allow him to communicate with his family and receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross."

Columnist Noah Pollak, in Commentary Magazine, challenged the limited concern for Shalit, noting, "If a better example of the utter moral collapse of the human rights community exists, it would be hard to find. The statement is one of passionless brevity -- just a few sentences long -- and expresses no opinion on the standing of Hamas, or on its 2006 raid into Israel, or on the legitimacy of its goals and methods."

Pollak continued, "Remarkably, it doesn't even demand the release of Gilad Shalit. The most that this allegedly courageous and principled human rights community could bring itself to say to the terrorists of Hamas is that they should improve the conditions of Shalit's imprisonment."

Human rights groups cite "the inflexible requirements of international law" when it comes to condemning Israel, but disregard those same principles when political considerations get in the way, Pollak wrote.

"These same champions of international law have lost their voices, and their outrage, when it comes to making what should be the easiest of judgments: That it is against international law to raid a sovereign state for the purpose of abducting its citizens, that Shalit's imprisonment is barbaric and utterly without legitimacy, and that Hamas must release him immediately," Pollak wrote. "Yet the human rights groups stand together in refusing to say these words, preferring to pick and choose their principles depending on political circumstances. If these groups actually cared about international law, they would be far less brazen in ignoring it when it doesn't suit the politics of the moment."

EGYPT RADICALS THREATEN MORE THAN COPTS -- If Egypt's radical Islamists succeed in converting the country's revolution against dictatorship into an Islamic state, the result not only would be that the country's Coptic Christian minority would be destroyed, but peaceful coexistence with Israel and the West would be jeopardized, a religious freedom advocate warned.

"Egypt's Coptic Christians ... are the most visible bloc standing in the way of impatient jihadists and violent Salafis, who reject the Muslim Brotherhood's stated approach of a more gradual and democratic cultural shift," Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, wrote June 10 in The New Republic. "[A] heightened campaign of violence is being directed against Egypt's Copts and is presaging a mass exodus from the country -- an event which, if it transpires, will have devastating effects on the multicultural makeup of the entire Middle East."

Islamists -- and those wanting their political support -- do not regard the Copts as "real Egyptians" and treat them as second-class citizens, Shea wrote.

"Copts are officially discriminated against by an Ottoman-era law that restricts their ability to build or even repair their ancient and crumbling churches and monasteries," Shea wrote. "When they suffer violent assaults by Muslims, they are typically denied justice, with trial judges instead presiding over 'reconciliation' sessions, with the victimized Copt being forced to shake hands with his Muslim aggressor.... In recent decades, Egyptian extremists and security forces have periodically attacked Copts in what the international media mislabels as 'sectarian clashes,' but which can more accurately be described as pogroms and acts of terror."

Following Egypt's revolution, which many Copts supported, Islamists now seem poised to assume power, Shea wrote.

"Fear among Copts that the recent escalation in violence and discrimination is only likely to worsen following Islamist victories at the polls this fall makes their mass exodus, similar to the one that took place in Iraq, seem nearly inevitable," Shea wrote. "As Egypt's largest non-Muslim community, the Copts are also the largest of such communities in the entire Muslim Middle East. And if the Copts do leave, this vast region, historically known as the great multicultural crossroads of civilizations, would see the end of an old and important experience of religious pluralism. This does not bode well for peaceful coexistence with either Israel or the West."

HUNGARY RELIGION LAW OPPOSED -- A proposed new law in Hungary would deal a serious blow to religious liberty in that country, a group of 22 religious freedom advocates told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., in a June 28 letter.

The proposed measure before Hungary's parliament would "de-register" minority faiths that were registered as legitimate religions since the adoption of Hungary's 1990 Religion Law, while allowing favored religious organizations to maintain their registered religious status, according to a statement from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The letter urged Clinton and Ros-Lehtinen to raise the issue of this proposed religion law with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and leaders of the Parliament ahead of a possible vote.

Richard Land, the ERLC's president, and 22 other signatories said in the letter: "Over a hundred religious organizations currently registered as such will be retroactively stripped of their status as religious communities and 'de-registered' as religious organizations if these provisions become law.... There is no question that the proposed Hungarian law relegates 'de-registered' religious communities to an inferior status. Religious organizations that have been 'de-registered' may not use the name 'Church' and will also lose their status as a religious organization if they are not 're-registered' through burdensome court proceedings.... These requirements represent a transparent attempt to suppress minority religious freedom in complete contravention of ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] decisions and UN and OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] standards."


Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press.