WASHINGTON (RNN) - Amid reports that a court may have issued an execution order for Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor jailed in Iran on charges of apostasy, the White House has released a statement calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
"The action is yet another shocking breach of Iran's international obligations, its own constitution and stated religious values," the statement, released on Thursday, read.
"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."
Nadarkhani was jailed in 2009 on charges he converted from Islam to Christianity. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to die by hanging for "turning his back on Islam" and refusing to recant his Christian faith.
Unofficial English translations of court briefs from the 2010 trial say Nadarkhani "often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity."
The brief goes on to say "he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home. During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim."
Nadarkhani contends he never converted to Christianity because he was never a Muslim. The courts say he is a Muslim because his parents were Muslims at the time of his birth.
Nadarkhani was given three chances this week to recant but declined to do so.
"The trial and sentencing process for Pastor Nadarkhani demonstrates the Iranian government's total disregard for religious freedom and further demonstrates Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens," the statement from the White House said.
The American Center for Law and Justice got word of the possible signed execution on Tuesday and have launched a media blitz designed to rally support for the condemned pastor.
"We, along with his legal team, do believe an execution order has been issued. It has not been delivered, but in Iran, you can deliver the execution order with the body," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, on the Jay Sekulow Live radio show Thursday.
A resolution was also making its way through the House of Representatives condemning the Iranian government "for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities" and calling on them to release Nadarkhani and "all other individuals held or charged on account of their religion."
Nadarkhani, 34, is the father of two sons, Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7.
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