.- Iranian authorities may have issued an execution order for a pastor jailed for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
“The news out of Iran is not encouraging,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
The D.C.-based human rights organization said that it has received information from its contacts in Iran that execution orders for Yousef Nadarkhani may have been issued.
A spokesman for the organization told CNA that Nadarkhani was still alive as of Feb. 21.
However, the situation is “dire,” the group said, and there is a need for prayer and increased efforts to focus international attention and pressure on Iran.
Sekulow said that the Iranian regime might have “decided to move forward by issuing an execution order” while international attention “is focused elsewhere.”
He explained that pressure from around the globe is essential because Iran's top officials still have the power to reject the order.
Nadarkhani has been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.
Despite threats of execution for apostasy, the Christian pastor has refused to renounce his faith.
An appeals court agreed with Nadarkhani’s assertion that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life. However, it also decided that because he had left the faith of his ancestors, he must recant or die.
Amid growing international pressure, Iranian officials then asked the nation’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for an “opinion” on the case.
The court had promised to issue a decision by December if the Supreme Leader did not reply. However, no ruling has been issued, and Nadarkhani has remained in jail.
A statement by the American Center for Law and Justice said that it is unclear whether Nadarkhani would have a right to appeal the execution order.
Although all publicly held executions must be approved by the head of Iran’s Judiciary Chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, most executions in Iran are carried out secretly rather than in public, it explained.
The statement also observed a “disturbing increase” in the number of executions carried out by the Iranian regime in recent weeks.
Sekulow and his colleagues have been following Nadarkhani’s situation for several months, raising awareness for the pastor’s plight through efforts including a Twitter campaign and online petition, which has received more than 35,000 signatures.
On Feb. 17, Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution condemning the Iranian government and calling for the release of Nadarkhani.
Efforts are now intensifying to raise support for that resolution and other awareness initiatives that may save the condemned pastor’s life.