Jailed Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is approaching his 1,000th day in an Iranian jail – where he faces additional charges and possible execution – all because he refused to allow his children to be taught Islam.
Arrested in 2009, Iranian pastor Nadarkhani remains on death row and fighting a battle for his life. Middle East Concern is now reporting that he will face new charges in September.
The group revealed that Pastor Nadarkhani was informed on July 4 that he will stand trial for the vague and unspecific charge of "activities against the state" or "against state security, rather than religious charges."
Even with international pressure, an Iranian court is letting the death sentence for blasphemy stand.
The announcement of the new charges will mean a longer prison stay for Nadarkhani, who will spend his 1,000th day in an Iranian jail Sunday.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said the ACLJ is keeping the pressure on Iran on behalf Pastor Nadarkhani.
"We continue to work to keep this important story in the news," Sekulow said. "On July 8, Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will have been imprisoned for 1,000 days. Nearly three years – in captivity – facing a death sentence because of his Christian faith."
Support for Pastor Nadarkhani is growing around the world.
A large crowd protested outside of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Rio de Janeiro hotel when the Iranian leader visited Brazil in June for the Rio+20 U.N. conference.
In the U.S., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed Senate Resolution 385, demanding that Iran's government release the jailed pastor.
Authored by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and supported by 10 co-sponsors, the bill cites the pastor's path to nearly 1,000 days in prison.
Whereas, in October 2009, Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian, protested an Iranian law that would impose Islam on his Christian children;
Whereas, in September 2010, a local court in Iran accused Youcef Nadarkhani of abandoning the Islamic faith of his ancestors and condemned him to death for apostasy;
Whereas the court sentenced Youcef Nadarkhani to death by hanging;
Whereas, on December 5, 2010, Youcef Nadarkhani appealed his conviction and sentence to the Supreme Revolutionary Court in Qom, Iran, and the court held that if it could be proven that he was a practicing Muslim in adulthood, his death sentence should be carried out unless he recants his Christian faith and adopts Islam;
Whereas, from September 25 to September 28, 2011, a local court in Iran held hearings to determine if Youcef Nadarkhani was a practicing Muslim in adulthood and held that he had abandoned the faith of his ancestors and must be sentenced to death if he does not recant his faith;
Whereas, on numerous occasions, the judiciary of Iran offered to commute Youcef Nadarkhani's sentence if he would recant his faith;
Whereas numerous Government of Iran officials have attempted to coerce Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith and accept Islam in exchange for his freedom;
Whereas Youcef Nadarkhani continues to refuse to recant his faith;
Whereas the Government of Iran continues to indefinitely imprison Youcef Nadarkhani for choosing to practice Christianity; and
Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran has reported that, at the time of his report, on March 6, 2012, the Government of Iran had secretly executed 249 people in 2011, and in 2010, the Government of Iran secretly executed more than 300 people:
The bill ends with an unconditional demand that Iran release Pastor Nadarkhani and all others imprisoned for their faith.
An unnamed Foreign Relations Committee staff member confirmed the unanimous vote.
Sekulow said Pastor Youcef's courage while still facing a death sentence should serve as an inspiration to Americans.
"Pastor Youcef's courage and commitment is truly inspiring," he said. "When Iranian officials demanded that he recant his faith in Jesus Christ or die, he responded with two words: 'I cannot.'
"We cannot and should not stop working to secure Pastor Youcef's immediate and unconditional release."
Sekulow added that the power of prayer is vital to securing Pastor Nadarkhani's release.
"We also know the importance of the power of prayer. And, so does Pastor Youcef. In a letter he released from prison not long ago, he specifically thanked everyone who has 'asked for my release, or campaigns and human rights activities which are going on against the charges which are applied to me,'" Sekulow said, quoting Pastor Nadarkhani.
The jailed pastor has asked for prayer.
Sekulow said, "We continue to pray for Pastor Youcef and all of those who face persecution because of their Christian faith."