TEHRAN (BP) — The U.S. State Department is trying to help free an Iranian pastor who faces possible execution for his Christian faith, and an Iranian decision on the pastor’s fate is expected by mid-December, the pastor’s supporters say.
The case of pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has drawn worldwide attention. He originally was sentenced to death for apostasy, although Iranian officials in recent weeks have brought forth unrelated charges — apparently in an attempt to lessen international pressure. His supporters say the charges are false.
Nadarkhani’s case has faded from the news since September, but the State Department has not forgotten, said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice. A team of ACLJ attorneys met with members of the State Department Nov. 9, a meeting that was initiated by government officials.
“The State Department … is very much engaged on this, has not forgotten about pastor Yousef and will not forget about pastor Yousef,” Sekulow told CBN News.
Nearly 200,000 people signed an ACLJ petition supporting Nadarkhani.
Additionally, Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom, mentioned Nadarkhani during a speech at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
“I want to echo President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s — and repeat my own — condemnation of his conviction and our calls on Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani immediately,” Cook said. “I urge all of you to do the same.”
Meanwhile, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which follows cases involving religious freedom, says Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is expected to issue his decision on the pastor by mid-December.
Nadarkhani, who is in his 30s, was arrested in 2009 and charged with apostasy, an offense punishable by hanging. A lower court found that while he had never been Muslim, he was guilty of apostasy because he came from a Muslim family. The Iranian Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.
In September, he was given four chances to recant his faith but refused to do so each time.
“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” he asked during one of the exchanges, according to the ACLJ.
“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.
“I cannot,” Nadarkhani responded.
Compiled by Michael Foust, 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).