The U.S. State Department repeated its call for the Iranian government to release Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who was sentenced to death after refusing to recant his Christian faith in the presence of a court on multiple occasions.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that Iran continues to deny the human rights of the pastor and others who belong to religious minorities in Iran.
"July 8 marked 1,000 days Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has spent in an Iranian prison," Nuland said in a press statement. "Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith, and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately."
Nadarkhani was arrested and imprisoned in October 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. He was condemned for committing moharebeh, which is translated as "apostasy" or "enmity against God." Each year hundreds of people are executed in Iran, of which dozens are killed for moharebeh.
Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, told Amnesty International that moharebeh [is] "imposed for a wide range of crimes, often fairly ill-defined and generally having some sort of political nature."
In Nadarkhani's case, prosecutors focused their arguments around his conversion to Christianity at age 19. However, like other moharebeh, the real crime was politically driven. His arrest came after he objected to his child being forced to read from the Qu'ran in school. Nadarkhani argued that the Iranian constitution allows for children to be raised in their parents' faith instead of the state religion.
But prosecutors argued that the apostasy charge still applied to Nadarkhani because he has Islamic ancestry according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In February, there were reports that a court renewed Nadarkhani's death sentence. The USCIRF reported that the order was not confirmed and that the execution may have been delayed until late 2012 to give Nadarkhani more time to recant. His next court date is in September, but the reason for the court appearance is unknown.
Nadarkhani was able to send an open letter in May to supporters. He said he was in "perfect" health and saw his imprisonment as a test of his faith.
"I ask all the beloved ones to pray for me as the holy Word has said. At the end I hope my freedom will be prepared as soon as possible, as the authorities of my country will do with free will according to their law and commandments which they are answerable to," Nadarkhani wrote.
Iran's legal system is opaque, at best, but Nadarkhani's imprisonment is being closely monitored by the State Department, USCIRF, Amnesty International, Voice of the Martyrs, and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
Advocates have acknowledged that the pastor's theological connections could impact donor support and other factors.
ACLJ is raising awareness of Nadarkhani's case by asking supporters to allow ACLJ to use their Twitter accounts to post news on the case. According to the ACLJ, 2.6 million users have joined the campaign.