(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Monday to Iran demanding that Tehran immediately release Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned for over 1,000 days.
Noting that July 8 marked the 1,000th day that Nadarkhani had been imprisoned, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "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."
Nadarkhani, 35, is facing death simply because he converted to Christianity when he was 19 and has refused on multiple occassions presented by the court to recant his faith. The pastor from Radht, Iran, was born to Muslim parents and came to faith as a teen. As a pastor he led a network of house churches in Iran.
But what led to the pastor's arrest on Oct. 13, 2009, was not his house church activities, but rather becaue he protested the goverment forcing his children to read the Quran in school. He was charged with apostasy and given the death sentence, even though officially Iran's constitution upholds equal rights for religious minorities and there is no official law against apostasy.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal group, has been spreading awareness and leading the advocacy campaign to free Nadarkhani. The ACLJ-led campaign "Tweet for Youcef" has over 2.5 million Twitter users from over 230 countries. On Sunday, the 1,000th day of the Iranian pastor's imprisonment, the campaign called for participants to tweet with hashtags #Nadarkhani and #1000illegaldays.
"We want to dispel any rumors that [Nadarkhani's] current apostasy charge, for which he was sentenced to death, has been removed," ACLJ's executive director Jordan Sekulow told CP last Friday. "Until the regime unconditionally exonerates and releases Pastor Youcef, his apostasy charge stands."
Back in February, influential American pastor Rick Warren tweeted a request for prayers for another imprisoned Iranian pastor, Behnam Irani, who is currently serving a five-year sentence for alleged crimes against national security.
"Pray for our dear pastor Behnam Irani who's been severely beaten in prison in Iran for preaching Jesus," Warren had tweeted on Feb. 1.
Irani is a 41-year-old pastor from Karaj, Iran, who became a follower of Jesus Christ in 1992 and a pastor in 2002. He has been arrested for "crimes" against national security twice, all connected to him holding house church services and leading people to Christ. He is currently serving a five year sentence that began in May 2011. Present Truth Ministries, which also reports on the conditions of Nadarkhani, reports that Irani is often beaten and physically abused in prison. His family is concerned that he may die in prison if his condition doesn't improve.
Nadarkhani is next scheduled to appear in court Sept. 8.