Youcef Nadarkhani
Christian women attend a New Year mass at Saint Serkis church in central Tehran on January 1, 2011. Reuters

The word conviction has two meanings, both of which are presently on display in Iran, where Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani waits to hear if and when he will be hanged.

Nadarkhani, convicted of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, has epitomized the word with his conviction of faith. When given the option of abandoning his beliefs to save his life, the pastor refused, defiant and fearful, but apparently willing to die for his religion.

[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.

Pastor Nadarkhani, who led a 400-person congregation in Rasht just a few years ago, was arrested on apostasy charges in 2009. He was found guilty of the crime of abandoning Islam and sentenced to death a year later.

His final appeal was on Wednesday -- his last chance to absolve himself of the ordeal. The Iranian court has not said if Nadarkhani will be executed, but what is clear is that rumors about a potential commuting of the sentence appear to be false.

I said in my last defense that his execution is not an appropriate and legal action from the viewpoint of Sharia Law, our own laws, and international laws, and I believe that the court accepted my opinion, said Dadkhah. I hope the court will vote for his acquittal and he will be released in the coming week.

The Judge kept asking my client to say, 'I have renounced Christianity and I recognize Islam as rescinder of all other regions,' and he kept saying 'I won't say that.'

Apostasy is not officially part of Iran's legal code, but it is punishable under religious texts and the fatwas decreed by Ayatollah Khomeini. If Nadarkhani is executed for the crime, he will be the first person killed for apostasy in more than 20 years.

Publically, Iran has positioned itself as a tolerant advocate of human rights. The Islamic Republic is a signatory on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the country wrote in freedom of religion into its constitution.

Nonetheless, religious persecution is sadly not an uncommon event in Iran.

The reality is as a Christian you don't have the rights of other Iranians. The actions and the basic policy toward evangelicals go against the rhetoric that they use for the country, David Yeghnazar, the U.S. director of Iranian church organization Elam Ministries, told the IBTimes.

Here we are in 2011 and we're talking about a man being killed for his beliefs. We need to ask Iran how they can be willing to break the charter they've signed and their constitution. The government must answer to the people, Yeghnazar said.

Despite Christianity's protected status in the country, in the last six months of 2010 at least 202 people were arrested for their religious beliefs, according to Elam. Additioanally, at least 100 more have been detained so far this year.

Last December, a group of 25 Christians in Tehran were arrested the night after Christmas by plainclothes security officers. About half were freed after an interrogation, while the others remained in custody without legal representation.

Unfortunately early this morning the authorities came to our homes. They arrested us and many other believers. I want to ask you to pray for us. We are sure God will never leave us or forsake us. God bless you. Sorry for giving you bad news over Christmas, but I believe God will do something for us, one of the detained said in a voicemail to a friend.

The religious history of Iran can be segregated into a number of different eras, ranging from the ancient to the modern, but the most significant break occurred after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. With the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran came a new legal code, one that formally recognized and protected four religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.

Ninety-eight percent of all Iranians are Muslim (Eighty-nine percent of those practice Shi'a Islam) but Zoroastrians have actually been in Iran longer than any other religious community. The monotheistic religion was the primary belief in the country before the Arab conquest of Persia in mid-600 A.D.

Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians are given special privileges in Iran and are allowed to drink alcohol, for example, something which is against Iran's sharia law for Muslims.

However, these legal protections exclude the largest non-Muslim religion. There are about 400,000 devotees of the Bahá'í Faith living in Iran, a group that has been institutionally persecuted for the past 100 years.

The Bahá'í, like Muslims, believe in Allah and the prophet Muhammad, but also believe that the prophets Báb and Bahá'u'lláh followed in succession. This has made them the target of hatred and violence, sometimes at the hands of the state.

They are a political faction; they are harmful. They will not be accepted, Ayatollah Khomeini said in 1979.

Since the revolution, the Bahá'í Faith have been subject to a number of difficulties, including secret government efforts to destroy their communities, arrests of Bahá'í leaders, attacks, exclusion from higher education and secret monitoring.

Iran is relatively tolerant of Jews, although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's many attacks on Zionism have led to a number of executions of Jews convicted of spying for Israel. Despite that, Iran has the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country.

Christians have notably faced persecution under the Ayatollah's rule. Most of the country' devotees left after the revolution, but Christians still make up about 0.4 percent of Iran's population and there are currently 600 churches in the country.

Christianity has a rich history in the area once known as Persia, and indeed Jesus Christ himself likely spoke the form of Aramaic that is still spoken by Assyrian Christians in Iran.

But currently, Christian leaders are at risk of arrest for simply doing their jobs. The government has been known to track preachers and evangelicals, and any act of conversion is considered apostasy, and in 2005, 50-year-old Pastor Ghorban Tori was reportedly murdered in an alley after multiple anonymous threats to convert to Islam, according to the Iran-Va-Jahan newsletter.

The more [the Iranian] government persecutes Christians, the stronger the Church will grow, said Yeghnazar. It happened with those who were martyred in the 1990s... If Youcef is executed, the news will come out.

Currently, a number of world leaders have condemned Iran for Nadarkhani's conviction, including President Barack Obama and the Bishop of Canterbury. As international attention grows, the pressure mounts on Iran, who is again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The nation is still silent about Nadarkhani's fate, but the world is watching closely.

In the meantime, Christians are praying for Youcef, Yeghnazar added.