The White House has condemned Iran's conviction of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been found guilty of apostasy.
Nadarkhani, once the leader of a 400-person congregation in the city of Rasht, was arrested in 2009 because he allegedly converted from Islam and then used his status in the Church to convert other Muslims. He was given his fourth and final chance to repent to Islamic clerics on Wednesday night, which he refused.
Pastor Nadarkhani now faces the death penalty and could be executed as soon as Friday.
The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people the White House Press Secretary said in a statement.
That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.
Apostasy is the crime of abandoning a religious belief. While it is not technically against the law in Iran, it does violate the nation's religious codes.
[Nadarkhani] was brought to court to repent for three days. He denied repentance on all three days, Nadarkhani's lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told the International Campaign for Human Rights.
Nadarkhani is claiming that he was never a Muslim, and so it would be impossible for him to convert. However, Iranian officials claim that since his parents were Muslim, Nadarkhani was at one time a Muslim. The pastor is being told that if he can prove that he coverted to Christianity before the age of 15, he will be set free.
Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ? Nadarkhani reportedly said at his trial. I cannot.
The trial and his likely execution has recently caught the attention of international religious and human rights organizations.
Freedom of belief, which includes the right to change one’s religion, is protected under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party, Amnesty International stated.