- (Reuters/Saul Loeb)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Iran to release a Christian pastor facing death due to his faith in Jesus. Clinton’s comments have finally come following nearly 200,000 Americans signing a petition for the U.S. government to intervene and help gain freedom for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
In calling for Nadarkhani’s unconditional release, Clinton said Saturday, “Today, we call on every government to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.”
The comments come 63 years after world leaders first gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in solidarity for the protection of human rights worldwide. It was therefore a fitting moment for Clinton to join a growing chorus of international condemnation against Iran for Nadarkhani’s incarceration.
The strong words from the U.S. Secretary of State also come after nearly 200,000 Americans signed a petition by the American Center for Law and Justice calling for the United States to help bring about Nadarkhani’s release.
Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 for speaking out against new policies in the Iranian education system that would force his children to join Muslim students reading from the Quran. The charge against the married father of two was later changed to apostasy, and he was suddenly accused of attempting to evangelize Muslims. Nadarkhani was quickly found guilty and given the death sentence.
The 34-year-old pastor was the leader of a network of Christian house churches, and is a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran.
Iran has received widespread criticism from the international community regarding the case, and has been accused of being in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Experts have suggested that it is this international pressure that has kept Nadarkhani alive until now; with a host of countries including France, Britain, Mexico and the United States leading the condemnation from across the globe. Breaking from regular legal protocol Iran has now passed Nadarkhani’s case to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review.
Khamenei has ultimate power in judicial affairs, and commentators have said that he is basically free to make a final ruling on the case as he sees fit. Previously it was expected that the Supreme Leader would make a judgment by mid-December.
In a statement released by the ACLJ, the organization praised Clinton’s support: “We appreciate Secretary of State Clinton’s strong statement in support of Pastor Youcef, and continue to urge the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Muslim leaders to speak out about this horrific human rights abuse and pressure Iran for Pastor Youcef’s release.”
"We will continue working with the State Department in fighting for Pastor Youcef’s release, as we expect a decision from Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei later this month.”