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A top Iranian official said at the UN Human Rights Council that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is imprisoned for his Christian activities and insulting Islam, but denied that he faces execution, Fox News reports.

By Perry Chiaramonte

3/13/2012 Iran (Fox News) – Under fire from a United Nations Human Rights panel, a top Iranian official claims a Christian pastor insulted Islam but denies he faces execution.

The UN Human Rights Council met in Geneva Monday, where Ahmed Shaheed, a “special rapporteur for human rights in Iran” delivered a report on human rights abuses in Iran and called for the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The pastor has been held in prison for nearly three years and was convicted on charges that Tehran has described in conflicting terms, first as apostasy and other faith-based crimes, then as rape and extortion.

Responding to Shaheed’s presentation, Iranian human rights envoy Mohammad Javad Larijani denied that Nadarkhani faces the death penalty, though the sentence was spelled out in a ruling handed down by Iran’s highest court last fall. Larijani also offered a new set of charges against Nadarkhani, including preaching to youth without their parents’ permission, converting his home into a church and offending Islam.

“In the last 33 years after [the Islamic] revolution, no single person has been put to death or executed or pursued for changing his religion from Islam,” he told the council. “Hundreds of people are changing from other religions to Islam. Why we should be so sensitive about a few people to change their religion from Islam?”

“Christianity and Judaism are preached in Iran,” Larijani said. “We have a number of synagogues; we have a number of churches. But there is no need to humiliate, to offend Islam.”

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told that it was noteworthy Larijani did not mention the rape and extortion charges that Tehran lodged against Nadarkhani amid mounting international pressure following his conviction for apostasy.

“He reads off the charges which are all faith-based, while denying that Nadarkhani received a death sentence for apostasy,” Sekulow said.”They are admitting the pastor is being charged for his faith.”

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