WASHINGTON (BP) — Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, arrested in 2009 and later handed a death sentence simply for being a Christian, has now been in prison 1,000 days.
Nadarkhani marked his 1,000th day in prison Sunday (July 8), a marker that his supporters hope serves to keep his case in front of the international community. The Jerusalem Post ran a story on him marking the anniversary, and it quoted Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law & Justice as saying Nadarkhani’s next court date is scheduled for Sept. 8.
The U.S. State Department also released a statement marking Nadarkhani’s 1,000th day.
“Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith, and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Pastor Nadarkhani is not alone in his suffering. The Iranian regime continues to deny and abuse the human rights of its citizens, in particular those of its many ethnic and religious minorities.”
The State Department’s message mentioned several other Iranian cases, including the reported execution of four members of the Ahwazi Arab minority group.
“We call upon Iranian authorities to respect and protect the freedoms and dignity of all its citizens, and to uphold its own laws and international obligations which guarantee such rights to all Iranians, regardless of their religious or political beliefs,” Nuland said.
Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while registering his church in Rasht, Iran, although he initially was arrested for protesting his children being taught Islam in school, ACLJ reported. He was charged with apostasy for supposedly abandoning Islam and later was given a death sentence.
Sekulow told The Post that while Nadarkhani’s next court date is Sept. 8, Sekulow does not know “the purpose of the appearance or the likelihood of new charges.” Nadarkhani’s supporters have said Iran could bring up false charges, knowing that an execution for supposed apostasy would lead to an international outcry.
“We want to dispel any rumors that his current apostasy charge, for which he was sentenced to death, has been removed,” Sekulow wrote. “Until the regime unconditionally exonerates and releases Pastor Youcef, his apostasy charge stands.”
Nadarkhani’s stance against Iranian officials has inspired Christians worldwide. In September, Nadarkhani was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of his court exchanges.
“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” Nadarkhani asked.
“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.
“I cannot,” the pastor responded.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).