US concerned over fate of Iranian Christian

Politics Materials 7 July 2011 13:24 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, July 7 /Trend T.Konyayeva/

The United States remain concerned over the fate of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian who was condemned for "apostasy" and may face the death penalty under Iran's Islamic Shari'a laws, the State Department's official statement reads.

"We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy - a charge based on his religious beliefs. If carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy in Iran since 1990," Department's spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Nadarkhani converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19. Then he became a pastor in a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.

He was arrested in October 2009 and convicted by an appeals court in Gilan Province in September, 2010. At that point, Nadarkhani turned to the country's Supreme Court.

According to Nuland, Nadarkhani is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran, including the seven leaders of the Baha'i community whose imprisonment was increased to 20 years for practicing their faith and hundreds of Sufis who have been flogged in public because of their beliefs.

"While Iran's leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, they continue to detain, imprison, harass, and abuse those who simply wish to worship the faith of their choosing," she said.

In August, 2010, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran initially issued 20 year sentences for the seven Baha'i leaders, two women and five men. They were convicted for alleged crimes including "espionage for Israel", "insulting religious sanctities" and "propaganda against the system". They denied all the charges against them. Later, the verdict was reviewed and "decreased to 10 years' imprisonment."

However, it was first reported on 18 March that the 20-year sentence had been reinstated and this was confirmed by the Baha'i International Community.
Nuland added that the US join the international community in continuing to call on the Iranian government to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens and uphold its international commitments to protect them.