The death sentence for a pastor found guilty of apostasy in Iran has been upheld by the country's Supreme Court.
"The ruling has deeply worrying implications for all Christians in Iran, and is yet another indicator of the regime's disregard for basic human rights and freedoms," Christian Solidarity Worldwide Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while attempting to register his evangelical house church in the city of Rasht. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, his arrest was connected to criticisms he made about the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.
He was initially charged with protesting but the charges were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims, and he was sentenced to death last year.
CSW has received reports that the death sentence has now been upheld by the third chamber of the Supreme Court in the Shia holy city of Qom.
Pastor Nadarkhani, who belongs to the Church of Iran, has been held in Lakan prison since his sentence was passed.
His lawyer filed an appeal last December but has now confirmed that the appeal was unsuccessful, although no official notification has been issued by the courts so far.
Johnston said it was a "devastating outcome" for Pastor Nadarkhani, his family and the Church of Iran network.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them," he said. "CSW condemns the decision to uphold this verdict in the strongest possible terms. The death sentence for the charge of apostasy is not codified in Iranian law."
Johnston said the Iranian regime often enacted death sentences without advance notice to prisoners' families, lawyers and sometimes even the prisoners themselves.
He called upon the international community to urgently put pressure on the Iranian regime to rescind the "unjust" ruling.
"Freedom to change one’s religion is a fundamental right which Iran pledged to uphold when it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," he said. "Iran must therefore be urged adhere to its commitments under international law.”
House churches have come under intense pressure in the last year, with a wave of random arrests and increasingly anti-Christian rhetoric.
In May, high profile Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yadzi reportedly chided the authorities for failing to stem the growth of house churches despite stepping up their efforts.
He called for better discipline and supervision of those authorities tasked with suppressing the churches, and suggested that the government set up a central system to monitor and coordinate the suppression of churches.