An Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death for his faith has spent 1,000 days in prison, prompting renewed calls for his release.
“Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith, and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately,” said the U.S. State Department on July 9.
The department acknowledged that July 8 marked 1,000 days that Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been imprisoned in Iran for his religious faith.
“Unfortunately, Pastor Nadarkhani is not alone in his suffering,” the State Department said. “The Iranian regime continues to deny and abuse the human rights of its citizens, in particular those of its many ethnic and religious minorities.”
The department called on Iran to “respect and protect the freedoms and dignity of all its citizens,” as well as to uphold internal laws and international obligations “which guarantee such rights to all Iranians, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
The 1,000-day mark of imprisonment for the pastor came as the D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, which has been closely following Nadarkhani’s plight, confirmed that he has been ordered by Iranian judicial authorities to appear in court again on Sept. 8.
While the purpose of the new court date is unclear, the legal center stressed that the pastor’s original death sentence has not been lifted.
Nadarkhani was arrested on October 13, 2009 after objecting to his son being forced to read the Koran at school. He was later sentenced to death for apostasy, or abandoning the Muslim faith.
An Iranian appeals court accepted the pastor’s assertion that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life. However, it also decided that because he had left the faith of his ancestors, he must recant or die.
Despite the threats of execution, Nadarkhani has refused to renounce his Christian faith.
His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, has also reportedly been imprisoned, and religious freedom advocates warn that the pastor’s execution order could be carried out at any time.
In an effort to save Nadarkhani’s life, the American Center for Law and Justice is running a social media campaign to raise international awareness about his plight through Twitter. That campaign now reaches more than 2.7 million accounts each day.
The situation is attracting attention from the international community. Within the U.S., the White House and numerous members of Congress have joined in the call for Nadarkhani to be freed.
Celebrities including NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, businessman Donald Trump, international soccer icon Ricardo Kaká and actress Patricia Heaton have voiced support for the imprisoned pastor.
In Richmond, Va., the third grade class at Elijah House Academy made cards offering their prayers and support for Nadarkhani after their teacher told them his story, comparing it to the Old Testament account of Daniel in the lion’s den.
Nadarkhani asked for continued prayers in a letter that he wrote in May, in which he explained, “I have surrendered myself to God's will.”
While he assured his supporters that he remains “in perfect health in the flesh and spirit,” he added that he believes he has reached “the day of exam and trial of my faith.”
“I am trying to do the best in my power to stay right with what I have learned from God's commandments,” he said.