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Yousef Nadarkhani (Image from Christian Solidarity Worldwide

The U.S. State Department has issued a statement condemning the “hypocrisy” of Iran, which while publicly proclaiming its tolerance for human rights, in practice has condemned to death a Christian pastor because of his faith.

In a statement from department spokesman Victoria Nuland, the U.S. said, “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.”

The statement said, “We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Yousef 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.”

The department noted that Nadarkhani is “just one of the 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.”

Nuland said, “We 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.”

The international Christian organization Christian SolidarityWorldwide had more details on the case.

Officials said the Iranian Supreme Court asked the lower court in Rasht to re-examine a few procedural flaws in the case, but gave local judges a free hand to determine whether Nadarkhani should be released, retried, or executed.

“Since the court in Rasht had based its original verdict on fatwas by such important religious figures as Ayatollah Khomeini, the ‘father’ of Iran’s revolution in 1979; Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran; and Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran, the Supreme Court may have been reluctant to overturn the verdict for fear of inviting controversy, even though there is no death sentence for apostasy in Iranian civil law,” the organization reported.

CSW also noted that Article 23 of the Iranian constitution states no one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.

Nadarkhani is a leader in the evangelical Church of Iran denomination and was arrested in his home city of Rasht of Oct. 13, 2009, while trying to register his church. He originally was charged with protesting, but those charges later were upgraded to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.

CSW said he was found guilty of apostasy in September 2010 and written confirmation was delivered two months later. Since then he’s been held in Lakan Prison.

His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, appealed that December, but now has been informed the appeal was denied.

“This is clearly a devastating outcome for Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and the Church of Iran network, and our thoughts and prayers are with them,” said Andrew Johnston, the CWS advocacy director.

“CSW condemns the decision to uphold this verdict in the strongest possible terms. The death sentence for the charge of apostasy is not codified in Iranian law. The ruling has deeply worrying implications for all Christians in Iran, and is yet another indicator of the regime’s disregard for basic human rights and freedoms. Of particular concern is the fact that the Iranian regime often enacts death sentences without advance notice to prisoners’ families, lawyers or even the prisoners themselves. Consequently, the international community must urgently apply pressure on the Iranian regime to rescind this unjust decision,” he said.

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