On Tuesday, The Blaze reported that Iran has likely issued an execution order for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Christian leader who has been under siege since his 2009 arrest on apostasy charges. Now, the White House and the State Department have stepped forward to call for Iranian leadership to release Nadarkhani. Additionally, the U.S. government has strongly condemned the Middle Eastern nation's ongoing assault on religious freedom.
In a statement issued on Feb. 23, the White House chastised the pastor's treatment, writing:
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms reports that Iranian authorities’ reaffirmed a death sentence for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for the sole reason of his refusal to recant his Christian faith.
The statement went on to call this purported action "yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values." This commentary, while welcomed by advocates and institutions like the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that have been working for Nadarkhani's release, comes at a time when the Obama administration is being accused of infringing upon religious peoples' rights here in America.
In its statement, the White House went on to say that the U.S. "stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution—a fundamental and universal human right."
Additionally, it specifically references the pastor's trial and his ongoing battle with the Iranian government -- a fight that could cost him his life. The proclamation continues, calling for the international community to also take a stand on the matter:
The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to immediately lift the sentence, release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion. The United States renews its calls for people of conscience and governments around the world to reach out to Iranian authorities and demand Pastor Nadarkhani's immediate release.
Marc C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department issued a similar statement on Thursday as well:
The United States is deeply concerned by reports that a provincial court has renewed the execution order for Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Mr. Nadarkhani is facing a death sentence on charges of apostasy and has refused to recant his Christian faith. Such government persecution for simply following one’s faith is common in Iran, where followers of many religious traditions face harsh treatment and severe violations of their religious freedom. We have also witnessed a dramatic increase in the arrest of adherents to the Baha’i Faith recently, as well as an increase in repression of freedom of expression in all forms. We stand with religious and political leaders from around the world in condemning Youcef Nadarkhani’s conviction and call for his immediate release.
The ACLJ, which quite often stands in opposition to the Obama administration on various religious freedom issues, applauded these comments. Additionally, the group also said that these statements reaffirm that this execution order could be carried out at any time. Thus, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow mirrored the White House's call for international action, saying, "It is absolutely critical that we continue to place international pressure on Iran for Pastor Youcef’s immediate and unconditional release."