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Washington, D.C. March 15 (International Christian Concern) – For the first time since the arrest of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in October 2009, the Iranian government publically acknowledged that the prison sentence was issued for no other reason than the pastor’s Christian faith and religious activities.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the Iranian human rights envoy, told the United Nation Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that Nadarkhani’s case involved three allegations: preaching Christianity to minors, holding worship gatherings at his home without government authorization, and offending Islam. Larijani also denied that Nadarkhani faces the death penalty even though an official verdict was handed down by Iran’s Supreme Court in December 2010 (translation of verdict in English).

Prior to the U.N. council session, Iran opposed accusations that Nadarkhani was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, instead attributing the prison sentence to charges of rape, extortion, and other crimes.

[Larijani] reads off the charges which are all faith-based, while denying that Nadarkhani received a death sentence for apostasy,” Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), told Fox News. “[Iran is] admitting the pastor is being charged for his faith.”

The U.N. council session follows aggressive international pressure on Iran to release Nadarkhani. “Of a particular concern is a systematic persecution of religious minorities” including “Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been accused of apostasy,” said a U.N. representative from Brazil.

This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values,” stated a release by the White House on February 23. “The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government’s total disregard for religious freedom, and further demonstrates Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens.”

While Larijani’s remarks restore hope that Nadarkhani is still alive, his execution may be implemented at any time.

The execution process in Iran — from sentencing to the final order for the hanging — has been known to take place in just a few weeks, especially for violent criminals,” reported the International Business Times. “Iran doesn’t always notify the family or legal counsel of those on death row before an execution, so a hanging or stoning may not be made public until days later — when the body is delivered to next of kin.”

Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, told the council on Wednesday that Iran executed 670 people in the past year, about 250 of them in secret.

 

For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: clay@swissmail.org