NEW YORK, Aug. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC called for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's immediate release when he appears in an Iranian court. Nadarkhani, accused of apostasy, already has spent more than 1,000 days in prison in Rasht. Iranian authorities may bring him back to court on Monday, ahead of the original September 8 date.
"The Iranian regime has moved up the Nadarkhani case, bringing it to the forefront just as the Non-Alignment Movement summit opens in Tehran," said Felice Gaer, director of AJC's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. "UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of state attending the conference should emphatically speak out in support of Pastor Nadarkhani's freedom and dropping all charges."
Sentenced to death for apostasy in November 2010, Nadarkhani reportedly is awaiting an opinion from Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei related to a February 2012 renewal of an execution order. He was arrested in October 2009 for allegedly questioning the compulsory Islamic education of his children and making a portion of his house a Church.
Iranian officials have offered to reduce or reverse Nadarkhani's sentence if he would disavow his faith, but he understandably has refused. His conviction and imprisonment is in violation of the freedom to practice a religion of his own choice
"The severe treatment of Pastor Nadarkhani contravenes Iran's own Constitution and its international obligations set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," said Gaer.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have called for Nadarkhani's release, and the U.S. House of Representatives also demanded his freedom in a bipartisan resolution that was adopted overwhelmingly in March. AJC this week called again on the Senate to adopt its version of the Nadarkhani resolution, S.Res.385.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious freedom in Iran has regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Iranian revolution 33 years ago. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran has expressed deep concern over Iran's violation of human rights.
"As the international community confronts the Iranian regime's threat to regional and global security, it is imperative that Iran's leaders cease harassment of Christians, other religious minorities and human rights advocates, and release all prisoners of conscience," Gaer added.
Gaer served between 2001-2012 on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, including three times as its chair.