White House condemns death sentence for Iranian Christian

WASHINGTON (ABP) – The White House condemned Sept. 29 the conviction of a pastor sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity in Iran.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, pastor of the Church of Iran, was tried and convicted of apostasy -- the act of leaving Islam -- in 2010. After refusing to recant, a court sentenced him Sept. 28 to death by hanging under Islamic Sharia law.

Youcef Nadarkhani

Nadarkhani converted from Islam to Christianity at age 19 and became a pastor of a small evangelical church. He was arrested in 2009 while attempting to register his church in his home city of Rascht.

A trial court found that Nadarkhani had not been a practicing adult Muslim prior to his conversion but ruled him guilty of apostasy because he is of Muslim descent. Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction, with a provision of annulment for the death penalty if Nadarkhani recanted his faith.

The verdict prompted protests around the world. They included author and mega-church pastor Rick Warren, who asked followers on Twitter to join the protest Sept. 28.

On Thursday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement condemning the conviction and calling for the pastor’s release.

“Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people,” Carney said. “That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that 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 violation of the universal rights of its citizens.”

---Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.

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