Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has now repeatedly refused to take the one action that could save his life: recant his Christian faith.
Human rights monitors fear that his courageous resistance could lead to his imminent execution.
After being imprisoned for a year, in September 2010, Pastor Nadarkhani, who regarded himself as agnostic before becoming a Christian at age 19, was tried and found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death. In June 2011, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld his sentence, adding a provision that, if he disavowed his faith, the sentence could be annulled.
Recently, when he was repeatedly asked by the court in his home city of Rasht [raasht] to renounce Christianity and affirm what the court called "the religion of his ancestors," the 34-year-old pastor and father of two reportedly said, "I cannot." The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision next week.
Pastor Nadarkhani's courage is as inspirational as the conduct of Iranian authorities is outrageous. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran has ratified, states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right," says the Declaration, "shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his [or her] choice."
Pastor Nadarkhani is not the only religious believer in Iran persecuted for his convictions. Baha'is, dervishes, Sunni Muslims, Jews, Shiites who have views distinct from state-sponsored religious norms, and other Christians have had their fundamental right to religious freedom curtailed – - even trampled -- by the government. Pastor Nadarkhani, as he now braves the ultimate punishment for his beliefs, stands in common cause with them all, throwing their plight as well as his own, into sharp relief.
The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Nadarkhani. White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement, "That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce [his] faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations.
A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violations of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."