US Condemns Iran for Pastor's Death Sentence; Urges Religious Freedom

The White House releases a statement Thursday condemning the execution of Iranian Pastor

In a statement released Thursday, the White House has strongly condemned the planned execution of Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadasrkhani, who has again refused to renounce his Christian faith in an Iranian court.

"Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people," the statement read.

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani awaits execution in Iran as he refuses to renounce his Christian faith for the fourth time today. A verdict is expected to be reached by the end of the week.

“We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion,” urged the White House statement.

The case began in October 2009 when Nadarkhani protested at the local school of his two sons. The government had recently passed a law stating that Islam must be imposed on children in local school, and even on Christian children.

On October 12, 2009 secret police put him in front of a tribunal for protesting charges. Before moving to the next stage of trial, Nadarkhani's charges were changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.

He was tried in local Rasht court for apostasy, or a renunciation of Islam, and evangelizing Muslims.

In Sept. 2010, he was given the death sentence for apostasy. The written sentence was delayed until Nov. 2010.

He appealed his case in December 2010, taking it to the Supreme Court of Iran. His lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, argued that because he was not a practicing Muslim before becoming a pastor, he did not technically “renounce” Islam.

The Supreme Court retorted by stating that Nadarkhani’s Muslim ancestry makes him guilty.

Considering that Iran is 99 percent Islam, Dadkhah questions the ability of any citizen to be considered exempt from Islam ancestry.

The Supreme Court did provide Nadarkhani with one option of survival: the ultimatum of “renounce or die.”

Defense attorney Dadkhah uses Iran’s violation of the country’s law and constitution, especially its written approval of freedom of speech, as his main premise for defense.

“That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations,” the White House argued.

The court is in violation of its International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which allows freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion, as well as Iranian constitution’s article 23, which states that no one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.

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