White House, State Dept. call for condemned Iranian pastor’s release
By Michelle Bauman
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.- The White House and U.S. Department of State are condemning reports that the Iranian government has issued an execution order for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani because he refuses to reject his Christian faith.

“This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values,” said a Feb. 23 statement from the White House press secretary’s office.

The White House condemned “in the strongest possible terms” reports that a death sentence was issued for the pastor, expressed “solidarity” with Nadarkhani, and observed that the ability to practice one’s faith “without fear of persecution” is “a fundamental and universal human right.” 

Through its actions towards the condemned pastor, the Iranian government is demonstrating a “total disregard for religious freedom” and “continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens,” it said.

The White House called for “people of conscience and governments around the world” to demand that Iran release Nadarkhani immediately and show a respect for basic human rights.

On the same day, the U.S. State Department voiced deep concern over the reports, noting a recent “increase in repression of freedom of expression” in Iran, where government persecution of religion is “common” and many religious groups “face harsh treatment.”

“We stand with religious and political leaders from around the world” to condemn Nadarkhani’s conviction and call for his release, the State Department said.

Nadarkhani has been in jail since he was arrested for apostasy in 2009. His arrest came after he complained to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.

The pastor argued that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life.

Although an appeals court agreed with his assertion, it also ruled that he had left the faith of his ancestors and must therefore recant or face execution for apostasy.

Despite the death threats, Nadarkhani has stood firm and refused to renounce his faith.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the statements from the White House and State Department confirm the reports he has received from contacts in Iran. Those sources told Sekulow that the government has issued an execution order for Nadarkhani that might be carried out at any time.

“We greatly appreciate the White House’s and State Department's efforts,” Sekulow said.

He added that it “is absolutely critical that we continue to place international pressure on Iran” for Nadarkhani’s “immediate and unconditional release.”

The American Center for Law and Justice has been closely monitoring Nadarkhani’s situation for months, and has asked people to pray for the pastor and spread the word about his plight, especially through social media outlets.

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