Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
Religious rights activists are hailing the release over the weekend of an Iranian pastor accused of apostasy and a Pakistani girl who was charged with blasphemy.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released on Saturday after a six-hour hearing, reported the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked to garner American support for the minister’s release. The Christian convert had faced possible execution.
“Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voice has been heard,” read an online announcement from ACLJ.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed Nadarkhani’s release “after being unjustly imprisoned for three years because of his faith,” said its chair, Katrina Lantos Swett.
According to a report late Friday from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an international organization devoted to issues of religious freedom, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009 on apostasy charges, has been acquitted and released from prison.
Nadarkhani, 35, previously had faced a possible death sentence for the charges against him, a result of his prostelytizing Muslims to convert to Christianity. He also refused to deny his Christian faith to save himself from execution.
Since his detainment three years ago, the U.S. State Department, the British government, the Vatican, Amnesty International, and a host of Christian organizations and leaders — including South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu — have called on the Iranian government to release the young pastor.
The State Deparment yesterday released a statement on the imprisonment of Iranian Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned for over 1000 days on charges of apostasy.
Organizations and countries has been calling for his release since he was imprisoned, but Iranian authorities has yet to agree to release him. A new date for Pastor Nadarkhani's trial has also been set recently.
Read the statement in full below:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release July 9, 2012
STATEMENT BY VICTORIA NULAND, SPOKESPERSON
Continued Imprisonment of Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and
Repression of Minorities in Iran
We note that July 8 marked 1,000 days Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has spent in an Iranian prison. 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.
Unfortunately, Pastor Nadarkhani is not alone in his suffering. The Iranian regime continues to deny and abuse the human rights of its citizens, in particular those of its many ethnic and religious minorities. We are troubled by reports of the execution of four members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community, whose sentences were carried out with little due process. In March 2012, Iranian state media broadcast the forced confession of one of those executed.
We are also concerned by credible reports that prominent author Mohammad Soleimani Nia is missing following his release in May after five months in prison on unspecified charges.
We call upon Iranian authorities to respect and protect the freedoms and dignity of all its citizens, and to uphold its own laws and international obligations which guarantee such rights to all Iranians, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.
# # #
I prayerfully hope that this is not and will not be the case with the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian leader who has been sentenced to death for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert to Islam.
Arrested in 2009 on a charge of apostasy, he has spent two years in jail, with his wife also being jailed on similar charges last year.