Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is on death row over apostasy charges, marks 1,000 days in prison today and is set to stand trial again on Sept. 8 for alleged crimes against national security. The American Center for Law and Justice is urging the 2.5 million users on Twitter who have been campaigning for his release to commemorate Pastor Youcef's 1000th day by tweeting and praying.
The ACLJ argues that Nadarkhani has been "illegally imprisoned" for 1,000 days and wants to step up international pressure for his release. The Christian legal group is asking participants of its "Tweet for Youcef" campaign (#TweetForYoucef) to tweet with hashtags #Nadarkhani and #1000illegaldays on Sunday to bring awareness to the pastor's story. The campaign has over 2.5 million participants in over 234 countries.
The ACLJ has also released a video about Nadarkhani's situation on the campaign's website.
Over the past 1,000 days, Nardarkhani was sentenced to death by hanging for his apostasy (abandoning Islam for Christianity), spent three birthdays including his 35th birthday in jail, and was twice pressured to recant his Christian faith or die. Through the ordeal, Nardarkhani has refused to recant his faith.
On Sept. 8, the pastor from Rasht, Iran, will reportedly also stand trial for crimes against national security, according to ACLJ and Present Truth Ministries, which has also been appealing for his release.
It is unclear whether Nardarkhani faces a death sentence in light of the recent charges. In June 2011, the Iran Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Youcef be sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy.
ACLJ told The Christian Post on Friday that the new charges related to security doesn't necessarily mean the apostasy charges have been dropped.
"We want to dispel any rumors that [Nadarkhani's] current apostasy charge, for which he was sentenced to death, has been removed. Until the regime unconditionally exonerates and releases Pastor Youcef, his apostasy charge stands," ACLJ's executive director Jordan Sekulow told CP.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested on Oct. 13, 2009, after protesting the government's decision to force all children, including his two sons, to read the Qu'ran. The pastor was initially arrested for protesting but was later charged with apostasy and evangelism to Muslims.
Religious freedom watchdogs like the ACLJ and Christian Solidarity Worldwide are also skeptical of the effectiveness of his legal representation by lawyers in Iran.
His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, was sentenced by a court in May to nine years in prison for charges that include crimes against national security.
In an open letter written in early May, Nadarkhani stated, "I need to remind my beloveds, though my trial due has been so long, and as in the flesh I wish these days to end, yet I have surrendered myself to God's will."