U.S. Lawmakers Challenge Iran to Spare a Christian Pastor’s Life

February 29, 2012 - 6:13 AM
Iranian pastor

Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani with his sons, Daniel and Yoel. (Photo courtesy Present Truth Ministries)

(CNSNews.com) –The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday will take up a bipartisan resolution calling on Iran to spare the life of an Iranian Christian pastor sentenced to death for “apostasy.”

Sponsored by a conservative Christian Republican and a liberal Muslim Democrat, the list of bipartisan co-sponsors for the resolution – introduced on Feb. 17 by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) -- has climbed to 46.

The resolution condemns the Iranian government for the “state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities” in violation of international covenants, and it calls on Iran “to exonerate and immediately and unconditionally release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religious or political beliefs.”

The effort to save the death row pastor crosses political and religious lines.  The resolution’s original six co-sponsors included Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

“Congressman Ellison and I are very grateful that Republican leadership has recognized the urgency of our resolution supporting Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” Rep. Pitts said in a statement provided to CNSNews.com on Tuesday.

“The supreme authorities in Iran have a decision to make about whether they will punish a man for a private religious decision, or live up to their international obligations as a member of the United Nations. The House of Representatives should join with the Obama administration in calling Iran to account. A man’s life is at stake.”

In recent days the resolution’s wording has been amended slightly. It now includes a call for the Obama administration to “designate additional Iranian officials, as appropriate, for human rights abuses” in line with 2010 sanctions legislation. That law, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, received overwhelming support in Congress, passing in the House by a 408-8 vote and in the Senate by 99-0.

Unconfirmed reports say Youcef Nadarkhani’s execution had been scheduled for Tuesday but was delayed. If true, the reports may indicate that international pressure is having an effect on Iranian decision makers.

In addition to the administration and U.S. Congress, governments and lawmakers from a number of other countries have joined religious leaders and religious freedom and human rights advocacy groups in calling for Nadarkhani’s safe release.

“It is this immense pressure that continues to keep Pastor Youcef alive,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has led international advocacy for Nadarkhani.

The ACLJ’s petition urging all members of Congress to support the resolution on Pastor Youcef has received more than 171,000 signatures.

The young pastor and father of two has put a name and a face to longstanding concerns about Iran’s treatment of Christians, Baha’is and other religious minorities, despite Tehran’s consistent claims to respect religious freedom.

Nadarkhani, who embraced Christianity more than a decade ago at the age of 19, was sentenced to death in late 2010 for “apostasy.” Iranian authorities reportedly have tried for months to persuade him to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ, in return for his life, an offer he has resisted.

At the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi touted Iran’s human rights record, calling it the best in the contemporary Muslim world.

Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB quoted Salehi as saying that Iran had “managed to gain remarkable achievements in science, technology, social justice, women’s status and respecting rights of religious minorities through relying on the will of people.”