WASHINGTON (BP) — Pressure on Iran continued building Friday to release a Christian pastor facing a death sentence, as the U.S. State Department issued its first statement and a leading religious liberty organization urged Christians worldwide to contact Iran’s United Nations ambassador.
The pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, refused to recant Christianity four times this week and could be executed any day for his faith. A court sentenced him to death because his parents are Muslim and he is a Christian.
The State Department issued a statement that mentions Nadarkhani and says the United States remains “deeply concerned by reports of the Iranian government’s continued repression of its people.” The statement also says the department remains “particularly concerned” about the pastor.
“The United States stands with the international community and all Iranians against the Iranian government’s hypocritical statements and actions, and we continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran,” the statement says.
The statement came a day after the White House urged Nadarkhani’s release, saying a death sentence by Iran “violates the religious values they claim to defend.” Speaker of the House John Boehner and British Foreign Secretary William Hague also have spoken out.
International Christian Concern, which monitors religious liberty around the world, began urging Christians to call or email Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. (Contact information: 212-687-2020 and [email protected])
“Throughout his imprisonment, [Nadarkhani] has trusted in the Lord and has been a bold witness of the redeeming work of Christ in his life,” ICC said in a statement, adding that the pastor “has learned to delight in hardships and persecution for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 12:10).”
Meanwhile, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported Friday that Nadarkhani was to be put to death for rape and extortion — charges not present in any previous court document since his 2009 arrest, CNN reported. Religious liberty experts immediately defended Nadarkhani, calling the charges false.
“They are feeling the attention, they are feeling the weight of the eyes of the world watching how they are treating this man,” Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, told CNN. “I am dumbfounded, though that at this stage in the game, this is what they would trot out.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, another religious liberty group, sent out a Tweet saying that it has “court documents that are very specific” in charging the pastor only with apostasy.
Nadarkhani’s refusal to recant has inspired Christians worldwide. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of Nadarkhani’s court exchanges.
“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” he asked.
“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.
“I cannot,” Nadarkhani responded.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.