Youcef Nadarkhani's Attorney Defends Christian Pastor Despite Iran's Threats
No matter their religion, few lawyers would take on the responsibility of legally defending Christians in Iran, a country that is majority Muslim, with a confusing legal system that treads a fine line between courthouse law and faith-based Shariah law.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is one of the few daring human rights attorneys in Iran. Out of the top human rights attorneys in the country, including those who have founded the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, Dadkhah is one of the few who has managed to stay in the country and out of jail.
Aside from defending numerous political prisoners throughout the years, Dadkhah has also committed himself to defending those who are religiously persecuted, including Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, whose high-profile case has attracted worldwide attention.
Nadarkhani, pastor of a 400-person house church in Iran, was arrested in Oct. 2009 for protesting the mandatory teaching of Islam at his children's schools.
Since Nadarkhani's plight has gained a large amount of international attention, Iran has attempted to evade future media scrutiny by passing his case on to head Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review.
In the past, Iran has threatened all those affiliated with cases similar to Nadarkhani's, especially those defending a religion other than Islam, with jail time.
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The same threat has recently been leveled against Dadkhah, when a judge told him in earlier this month that he will be serving a nine-year prison sentence for "acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home."
Why would Dadkhah, a Muslim man, be willing to risk everything, including his freedom, to help a Christian?
According to Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Dadkhah is simply a man committed to the preservation of human rights, even in such a restricting country as Iran. Sekulow and the ACLJ been closely monitoring Nadarkhani's case.
"He has no personal reason, other than that he believes in human rights, to represent these minority groups, whether it's political opposition or religious minorities, and [goes] out of his way to do so. He really does believe in those human rights," Sekulow told The Christian Post.
Dadkhah co-founded Iran's now-banned Center for the Defense of Human Rights along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, Abdolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Seifzadeh, and Mohammad Sharif.
The center, which was closed by the Iranian government in 2008, sought to legally defend Iranians facing human rights abuses. Of those members of the human rights center, Dadkhah is one of the few remaining who has not been imprisoned or fled the country due to Iranian governmental pressure.
Dadkhah has represented his fair share of both political prisoners and religious figures.
As Sekulow told CP, Dadkhah, a pro-bono lawyer, has dedicated his career to "defending prisoners of conscience, both of political nature and of religious."
According to Sekulow, most recently Dadkhah has served on a legal counsel for 11 Christians in Bandar Anzaly and eight Christians in Shiraz who were arrested for their Christian activity. Dadkhah was able to get all of the Christians acquitted of the charges, Sekulow confirms.
Dadkhah has also dedicated his work to defending students. As Sekulow told CP, Dadkhah "has also defended students who were denied their rights to education and entrance into to university because of their ideology."
In 2009, the lawyer represented the more than 40 University students who were arrested for protesting the election results of that year, and "more than 100 University students charged with crimes against the regime after their participating in freedom protests in 2004," according to Sekulow.
"He just believes in basic human rights, religious freedom, and political dissent, and for people to be able have a voice. He [has] stood by that his whole career," Sekulow told CP.
Additionally, Dadkhah has sought to defend the freedom of the press. He co-represented Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian Canadian journalist who was arrested in 2003 for taking photos of parents protesting the incarceration of their children outside of Evin prison, north of Tehran.
Kazemi was tortured and died 19 days after her arrest in Evin prison, and her prison death was one of the first to gain international attention toward Iran's human rights abuses.
Additionally, Dadkhah has defended several members of the press, including those who work for daily newspapers, such as Iran Mehr, Navid e Esfehan, Nima Neiestani (cartoonist), Mr. Salavati Isfehan (university professor), Dr. Reza Fazel Azad (university professor), Mr Tavassoli (first mayor of Tehran after the revolution), and Mr. Javadi (minister of justice and minister of state).
Dadkhah currently awaits further news of sentencing, and has yet to be arrested.
Youcef Nadarkhani continues to remain imprisoned. Although he issued a letter to Present Truth Ministries on May 9 saying he is in good health, his situation has worsened since the ACLJ received word in February that an execution warrant had been issued against him.
This, accompanied by Dadkhah's potential arrest, could result in a lack of legal representation for Nadarkhani, as few lawyers are willing to take on such a controversial case.
"This is a very bad situation. People don't survive this prison, that's how bad this prison is," Sekulow said of the place where Dadkhah would likely be held if incarcerated.
Sekulow insisted that a continued international response is the most effective way to heighten awareness of Iran's injustices.