Conflicting reports Ps. Nadarkhani *For Peace in Sri Lanka… Catholic bishops
Spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says the latest information he’s heard is still being confirmed. “There is a report from an Israeli media outlet saying that the execution has been postponed. It’s unclear when it will happen. The other part of this report that has new information to me is that it was scheduled to take place today (February 28), but it was postponed indefinitely.”
There are other stories indicating there was actually no execution order and that Nadarkhani was being held for rape and “other crimes,” not apostasy. (Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states, “Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death,” and “Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.”) Naturally, the changing details beg the question, “Is this a campaign of misinformation?”
“There are so many different pieces of information coming from different directions, that it’s hard to know what is real and what is not real,” Nettleton notes. It could discredit future reports coming out of Iran. Who benefits from discrediting the stories? The bigger question, says Nettleton, is: “What role does the Iranian government play in this? They have a history of not being transparent with the rest of the world as far as what’s going on inside Iran. So it is interesting to wonder if they are perhaps playing with this information as a way to try to gauge: ‘How is the world going to respond if we do this?’”
However, delay could be a response to the international scrutiny, too. “When it comes to some of the European countries, those countries can have sway on Iranian public policy. The Iranian government does tend to pay attention to what they’re saying. In this case, many of them are also sounding the chorus that a person should not be executed for their religious beliefs.”
The American Center for Law and Justice added their voice the chorus of concern. “If a human being becomes a bargaining chip for the ayatollah, that’s not a situation that will lead to anything positive,” says ACLJ’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow.
Nettleton says the lack of movement could also signal an acknowledgement of the conundrum Iran’s judiciary faces. If the court releases the pastor, it denies Sharia law, risking the wrath of Muslims in Iran. If they execute him, they face the displeasure of the international community, which includes dozens of human rights groups, the White House, members of Congress, leaders from the European Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico and Germany.
Trying to find a way out of the dilemma, the court gave Nadarkhani a chance to recant and return to Islam, but he refused. His story reveals a distress the government can’t ignore. Nettleton explains, “The government is responding with lethal force in this particular situation because the church is growing in a way that the government can’t understand and can’t control. They see putting someone to death as saying, ‘This will put a stop to Muslims leaving Islam to follow Christ.’”
The paradox of persecution, says Nettleton, is met by prayer. “There is an incredible hunger for the Gospel. There is an incredible openness to hear about Jesus Christ. We need to pray that there will be ministries and people and workers who will work in those harvest fields.”
Check our Featured Links Section for more about the work of the Voice of the Martyr with the persecuted church.
For peace in Sri Lanka: learn from past failures
Sri Lanka, February 29, 2012: Bishops urge the government to translate all of its documents in both Tamil and Sinhalese, draw up the list of people who went missing during the civil war and dismantle all illegal armed groups. The government focuses instead on big economic projects and disregards the country’s real problems, like its 200,000 internally displaced people and its 39,000 war widows, who live without aid or work. The bishops’ Conference calls for a Sri Lankan identity, not one that is either Sinhalese or Tamil.
In a press release, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka has called on the government to dismantle illegal armed groups, draft a list of people who went missing during the civil war and translate all official government documents in both Sinhalese and Tamil. This way, the report issued by the Lessons Learnt e Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate the final phase of the war can be more effectively implemented. Released in December 2011 after a year’s work, the report contains some proposals for national reconciliation.
Almost three years since the end of the civil war, the country is still licking its wounds. However, the government continues to borrow money to invest in mega tourist projects (taking a heavy toll on the environment and on thousands of farmers and fishermen) and build up the country’s armed forces.
In the meantime, more than 200,000 people are languishing in refugee camps, unable to go home to their villages or move elsewhere. On Jaffna Peninsula alone, 39,000 war widows live without any kind of public help or job to earn a living. At the same time, some 12,000 people, mostly men, are still missing, vanished in thin air, with the authorities providing no account for their fate or whereabouts.
For many, the LLRC report is a response to a UN report released on 26 April 2011, which blamed the Sri Lankan government for the death of 40,000 civilians in air bombings or cold-blooded executions.
Two days ago, a resolution went before the United Nations Human Rights Council on alleged abuses by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels during the civil war. On the same day, the government organised anti-UN protests across the island.
In their press release, signed by Card Malcolm Ranjith and Mgr Norbert Andradi, respectively the president and the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri lanka, the bishops say “another valuable opportunity” should not “to pass us by”. In fact, “We believe that it is not incorrect to state that the most unfortunate experience of war was the result of thousands of missed opportunities. Hence, it is our great responsibility to clinch yet another vital opportunity God places before us.”
For this reason, “The report needs to be disseminated to the masses. It would be necessary to have the report, particularly its recommendations, translated into the two official languages of the nation.”
“Let all that concerns good governance be implemented. Illegal armed groups need to be disarmed. We also urge that the government to address the painful issue of missing persons and present a list of those who are still in custody as it always helps anyone to know if and when his or her loved ones are no more.”
The bishops also called for a cultural renaissance through art, drama and music. “We need,” they argue, “to identify the linguistic and cultural commonalities and affinities in establishing a Sri Lankan identify and be mindful of the fact Sinhalese and Tamil cultures have very rich roots”.