THE United States and the European Union have called for the immediate release of the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death in Iran for apostasy (News, 7 October). A court in Iran last week ordered his execution, after he had refused three times to recant his faith.
A statement from the White House said that President Obama condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the sentence on Mr Nadarkhani, aged 34, a father of two: “The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence.”
The US Congress was expected to vote overwhelmingly on a resolution condemning the sentence on Wednesday. The EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs also called on Iran to “respect its international human-rights commitments”.
The Iranian government has appeared to backtrack over the case, saying that no execution order had been announced, and that Mr Nadarkhani was being held for “rape and other crimes”, not apostasy.
Mr Nadarkhani, who converted at the age of 19, has been in prison for two years. There are fears that the case will become a political bargaining-tool for Iran, as the US moves to impose new sanctions.
Pastor Terry Jones, a minister from Florida who caused international outrage when he threatened to burn the Qur’an (News, 10 September 2010), has threatened to do so again, if Mr Nadarkhani is executed.