WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged President Obama Oct. 29 to pressure Iran to release a Christian pastor facing a death sentence.
Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor in Northern Iran, reportedly has been tried and informed verbally he will be executed for committing apostasy under Iran’s militant Islamic regime, according to the commission (USCIRF). In an attempt to apply more pressure to Nadarkhani to recant his confession of Christ, delivery of a written verdict to the pastor has been delayed, according to Present Truth Ministries, which aids the persecuted church overseas. Nadarkhani will have 20 days to appeal to Iran’s Supreme Court after he receives a verdict in writing, Present Truth reported Oct. 23.
Authorities arrested Nadarkhani in October 2009 after he questioned the Muslim domination of religious instruction in the school attended by his children, USCIRF reported. He argued Iran’s constitution allows parents to train children in the Christian faith. Nadarkhani’s wife, Fatemeh Passandideh, also was charged with apostasy, but she was released this month after four months of imprisonment, USCIRF reported, based on sources in Iran and the U.S. government.
“This case is further evidence that there is no transparency or justice in Iran’s so-called legal system for religious minorities,” USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo said in a written statement. “The Obama Administration must continue to speak out, as Secretary of State Clinton did in August, for Iran’s religious minorities. International pressure impacts Iran, and the regime has shown leniency in some cases where there is international scrutiny.
“Time is of the essence here. This man’s life is at stake. We call upon our government and the international community to press for his release and ensure that Iran takes no extreme action in this case or in others like it.”
The U.S. State Department has named Iran as one of eight “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
Iran’s regime has abused human rights for more than three decades, and its weak record on religious liberty has declined further in the last year, USCIRF has reported. This has been true especially in regard to minorities such as Baha’is, Christians and Sufi Muslims.
“[P]hysical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment [have] intensified,” according to the commission. “Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities — Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians — protected under Iran’s constitution faced increasing discrimination and repression.
Leo said, “This pattern of arrest and harassment of religious minorities, coupled with increasing inflammatory rhetoric from President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and other leaders, has not been seen since the early years of the Iranian revolution.”
Ahmadinejad has been especially provocative toward Israel, denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy the Jewish state.
USCIRF commended Obama after he issued sanctions Sept. 29 against Iranian government leaders involved in violations of religious freedom and other human rights. The president’s executive order authorized sanctions against eight senior officials in Iran’s Islamic regime who, based on credible evidence, participated in “serious human rights abuses” before or during that country’s 2009 presidential election. Obama’s order means those cited will be subject to economic and visa penalties. The sanctions were the first under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which became law in July.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.