Over 61,000 Sign Petition Calling on Iran to Free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, was the pastor of a 400 member congregation in Iran before he was arrested in Oct. 2009 and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.

More than 61,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison.

In May, Iran upheld a 10-year prison sentence for Nadarkhani and three other Christians after they were convicted of promoting "Zionist Christianity."

The American Center for Law and Justice, which has been helping to legally represent Nadarkhani, launched a petition in support of the persecuted pastor.

"Iran's actions violate its own constitution that guarantees religious freedom, and multiple international human rights treaties," reads the petition, which as of Thursday afternoon has more than 61,300 signatures.

"We're once again ramping up our legal advocacy efforts to fight across the globe for Pastor Youcef's freedom and hold Iran accountable for its heinous persecution of Christians. We must take swift action to free Pastor Youcef before it's too late."

In a statement released Thursday morning, the ACLJ said it believes "Iran will only listen when it feels the maximum pressure of the international community."

"This is a blatant miscarriage of justice. Pastor Youcef must be allowed to return to his family, and Iran's violent persecution of Christians has to end," stated the ACLJ.

"We have fought for Pastor Youcef's freedom before, and we are prepared to do so again on the international stage. He needs you too. Sign our petition demanding his freedom."

For nearly a decade now, Nadarkhani has found himself in legal trouble due to his decision to convert from Islam to Christianity.

In November 2010, Nadarkhani was given the death sentence for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools for his children and for attempting to register his church. He was acquitted in 2013.

In May 2016, Nadarkhani was arrested, along with Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, in raids by the government.

The four were found guilty of, among other things, promoting "Zionist Christianity," acting against national security, and violating the nation's alcohol prohibition laws when receiving Communion.

They were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Nadarkhani was reportedly being sent to Elvin Prison, a facility known for its horrible human rights record and lack of medical treatment.

"The international community must press the government of Iran to uphold its constitutional obligations toward its Christian community," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Operating Officer Scot Bower in a statement released last month.

"[Iran must also] respect the right of its citizens to the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is signatory."

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