Judge Ahmadzadeh Singles Out Christians in Court
By Claire Evans
02/12/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh has presided over the trials of many Iranian Christians arrested by the authorities. Like other Revolutionary Court judges, Ahmadzadeh received training in Islamic religious law from a theological seminary. He was selected for this judicial position because of his dedication to guarding against any ideology that could pose a threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
February 11 marked the 40-year anniversary of the rise of modern Iran. Today, the hardline Islamic ideology which founded Iran continues to dominate society, in part thanks to judges such as Ahmadzadeh. However, many Iranians are challenging the legitimacy of the country’s leadership.
“Most citizens don’t like the country’s leadership,” one Iranian Muslim explained to International Christian Concern (ICC). “Most of the people don’t like [them] taking the religion as a cover for everything, but you can’t do something or even talk freely sometimes.”
The cracks have begun to fray for some time now, increasing significantly within the past year. This has led the regime to demonstrate a show of strength in Iran’s Islamic identity, allowing judges like Ahmadzadeh to double down against Christians.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is just one of many Christians who have experienced the biting sting of Judge Ahmadzadeh’s gavel. Pastor Nadarkhani represents the essence of why Judge Ahmadzadeh is so harsh toward Christians. A Muslim who converted to Christianity, Pastor Nadarkhani would become a highly influential Christian leader and lead a large house church.
He was first arrested in 2006, and again in 2009, after lodging a compliant before local education officials that they were forcing his child to read from the Quran. In response, the authorities charged him with apostasy—he was jailed for over 1,000 days and sentenced to death in 2012. The international outcry was profound, and his death sentence was overturned, although he was not released from prison until 2013.
No Christian has been sentenced to death since then, but the task fell to Judge Ahmadzadeh to ensure that Pastor Nadarkhani was kept in line. Three short years later, he was again arrested. Judge Ahmadzadeh found Pastor Nadarkhani guilty of “acting against national security [by] promoting Zionist Christianity.” The sentence was harsh: 10 years in prison and two years of exile in Nikshahr, a town nearly 2,000 kilometers away from his family in Rasht.
“Most citizens don't like the country’s leadership. Most of the people don't like [them] taking the religion as a cover for everything, but you can't do something or even talk freely sometimes.”
By issuing this kind of sentence, Judge Ahmadzadeh was striking hard against Christianity, and Pastor Nadarkhani in particular.
He could not issue another execution order against Pastor Nadarkhani, but he could send him to Evin Prison, sometimes referred to as a “living coffin.”
Judge Ahmadzadeh could not beat down the Gospel message, but he could ensure that Pastor Nadarkhani was subjected to inhumane treatment in prison.
He could not put an end to Christian community, but he could isolate Pastor Nadarkhani. The pastor’s sons were young children when he was first put in prison. They would be young men in their late twenties by the time his latest sentence is completed.
Pastor Nadarkhani would unsuccessfully try to appeal the sentence, and was sent to Evin Prison in 2018. The aggression which Judge Ahmadzadeh treated the case was displayed through the arresting officers. A source close to the family described the arrest to Iran Human Rights Monitor, “Plain clothes agents went to Mr. Nadarkhani’s home and attempted to break down the door to enter the home. When Nadarkhani’s son opened the door, the state forces threw him to the ground using electric shocker. Then they beat Mr. Nadarkhani with electric shocker and arrested him before his wife and child.”
Judge Ahmadzadeh’s treatment of Christians is not just limited to Pastor Nadarkhani. Every Christian known to pass through his court has been sent to Evin Prison, and many have been sentenced to 10 years in prison. There, they face inhumane and degrading treatment. Exile is also a frequent component of Judge Ahmadzadeh’s sentences.
Even though Judge Ahmadzadeh treats Christians harshly, many believers continue to hold onto their faith in Christ. The words of an open letter penned by Pastor Nadarkhani in 2012 continue to serve as an inspiration to those facing years of imprisonment.
He wrote, “Indeed I have been put to the test, the test of faith which is, according to the Scriptures ‘more precious than perishable gold.’ But I have never felt loneliness, I was all the time aware of the fact that it wasn’t a solitary battle, for I have felt all the energy and support of those who obeyed their conscience and fought for the promotion of the justice and the rights of all human beings.”
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