The pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, faces death by hanging for his Christian faith, although Iran's news service in recent days has reported the charges against the pastor are not apostasy but instead are being a traitor, a "Zionist" and engaging in "security crimes." Observers say the charges have been trumped up by Iranian officials in the face of outside pressure. All of the court documents since his arrest in 2009 make clear the charge was apostasy.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in his Oct. 4 letter to Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee that the verdict is "a clear violation of the universal human right of religious freedom, as well as an affront to the Islamic Republic of Iran's claims to provide religious tolerance."
"As a member state of the United Nations," Land's letter reads, "the Islamic Republic of Iran has a responsibility to fulfill its international commitments. One of those commitments is to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the nation signed in 1948."
That declaration says, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," and that includes the "freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran also is a party, reiterates those principles, Land said.
"That Iranian officials would execute Mr. Nadarkhani unless he disavows his faith is a clear violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom recognized in these statements."
Land urged Khazaee to "press your government to drop any and all charges against Mr. Nadarkhani."
The White House, the State Department and the speaker of the House all have spoken out for Nadarkhani, as has the British foreign secretary. The pastor was arrested in 2009 after complaining that his children were being taught Islam in school. Earlier this year the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim -- a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. That lower court found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remains guilty of apostasy because of his Muslim ancestry.
"It is clear that our efforts to put international media and political pressure on Iran to release Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani ... are having a tremendous impact," the ACLJ's Jordan Sekulow wrote. "The Iranian government has taken note of these efforts and has reacted by spreading lies about Pastor Youcef in an attempt to sway international attention from this horrific human rights abuse."
Sekulow quoted from the Iranian Supreme Court's verdict, which said Nadarkhani is "convicted of turning his back on Islam." It further said he has been "sentenced to execution by hanging."
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.
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