(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
A prayer vigil, led by the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, was held in Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon in honor of evangelical pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who currently faces an execution order for his Christian faith in Iran.
The event took place at 3 p.m. on March 7 in front of the Iranian Interests Section in Washington, D.C., located at 2209 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
As well as the prayer vigil, activists laid flowers at the location to show their stand in solidarity with the Iranian pastor, who has been imprisoned in Iran since Oct. 2009.
After the prayer vigil, Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, held a press conference to speak on Nadarkhani's plight and the importance of international support.
The Rev. Mahoney told The Christian Post that the purpose of the prayer vigil was to send two messages – one to Iran, and one to the free nations of the world.
"To Iran we would continue to pray that they would embrace human rights and religious freedom for all," Mahoney told CP. "That they would be a country that would respect the faith tradition of all groups, regardless of what those traditions might be."
Mahoney went on to say that the message to the free nations of the world is to "keep the pressure on."
Many believe that international pressure has helped keep Nadarkhani alive. So far, the United States, Europe Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico, and Germany have all openly condemned Iran, demanding the Christian pastor's immediate release.
Some critics argue that Iran is using Nadarkhani's execution as political leverage to negotiate the recent sanctions invoked by the U.S. on the Middle Eastern country, which maintains an elusive stance on its nuclear weapons production program.
"I think one of the clearest ways for Iran to show that they are moving in the right direction would be the immediate release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani," Mahoney contends.
Mahoney also believes that the most effective way for the United States to communicate with Iran is for President Barack Obama to personally speak on Nadarkhani's trial.
"In diplomatic circles, there is a hierarchy. So I think that Iran takes strong notice when the president of the United States has not personally, and publically, called for the release and safety of pastor Nadarkhani," Mahoney said.
"That's a critical thing that [Obama] still needs to do," he added.
Wednesday's vigil is in context of a week-long period of fasting and prayer. Several Christian groups across the country are participating in this fast, including the Christian Defense Coalition, Hillside Mission, Faith in Action, and Youth With A Mission D.C.
While some, such as Mahoney, choose to fight for Nadarkhani through prayer and fasting, others have taken more aggressive approaches.
On Feb. 22, Dr. Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., announced that he would burn Qurans, should Nadarkhani be executed.
"I could not think of a worse thing to do for pastor Nadarkhani than to burn a Quran," Mahoney said, regarding this method of protest.
"We want religious freedom and liberty, and that's religious freedom for everyone," he added.
Nadarkhani was arrested in Oct. 2009 and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. On Feb. 21, 2012, it was announced that Iranian courts had issued an execution warrant for Nadarkhani.
Although the American Center for Law and Justice has confirmed that Nadarkhani is in fact alive as of Saturday, March 3, there is no further information on the status of his execution order.