White House, John Boehner Call on Iran to Spare Evangelical Pastor's Life

Speaker of the House John Boehner as well as the White House have issued statements Thursday, pressuring Iranian officials to spare the life of pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, even as reports increase of the Christian convert's impending execution.

In an issued statement, Wednesday, Boehner said: "Religious freedom is a universal human right. The reports that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani will be sentenced to death by the Iranian government unless he disavows his Christian faith are distressing for people of every country and creed."

The Republican Congressman from Ohio also alluded to Iran's past statements of promoting tolerance:

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"While Iran's government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity. I urge Iran's leaders to abandon this dark path, spare Yousef Nadarkhani's life, and grant him a full and unconditional release."

Advocates calling on Iran to spare Nadarkhani's life have also been pressuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action.

The White House released a statement Thursday, condemning the pastor's detention, which reads:

The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. 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. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.

Nadarkhani, in his early 30s, converted from Islam to Christianity at 19 before becoming a pastor of a small evangelical congregation called the Church of Iran, according to AFP.

He has been held in that country's Gilan Province since October 2009, after he protested to local education authorities that his son was forced to read from the Quran at school. He was sentenced to death for apostasy last September, despite the fact that there is no offense of "apostasy" in the nation's penal code, according to Amnesty International.

The lawyer representing Nadarkhani has denied recent reports claiming that his client's death penalty sentence had been overturned by Iranian officials, yet it was reported Thursday that the case might turn into a victory.

Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) revealed in a report Thursday:

"ACLJ attorneys confirmed with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's attorney in Iran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, that the death sentence still stands. Mr. Dadkhah stated that at the end of yesterday's hearing, three of the five judges appeared to be leaning toward annulling Pastor Youcef's sentence. Recognizing, however, that the judges' decision is not final and may be swayed by outside pressure before delivering the final verdict, he urges the international community to continue to cry out for Pastor Youcef's unconditional release until he walks free from the jailhouse."

The push for Nadarkhani's rights to be upheld comes just days after the Iranian regime freed two American hikers on bail after imprisoning them for two years when the men accidently strayed over the Iraqi border and into the country.

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