Washington, DC (BWA)-- The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) joins other world bodies, including other international Christian organizations in supporting Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death by the Iranian Supreme court after having refused several attempts to have him recant his Christian faith.
Nadarkhani was originally convicted for the crime of apostasy -- the renouncing of the Islamic faith -- but government officials later insisted the sentence was based on alleged violent crimes, specifically extortion and rape.
Prior to his imprisonment, Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity at the age of 19, was pastor of a 400-member Christian congregation and a network of Christian house churches in the city of Rasht in northwestern Iran. He is scheduled to be executed in Tehran, the Iranian capital, at any time.
"It is distressing and outrageous for someone to be sentenced to death for a crime of conscience," said Raimundo Barreto, BWA director of the Division of Freedom and Justice. "We firmly stand in solidarity with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, are praying for his release, and are making all efforts possible to influence the outcome of this situation."
Barreto communicated the BWA's concern to the representative office of Iran in Washington, DC, the United Nations Assistant General Secretary on Human Rights, the UN Special Rappourteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the United States Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom to do all they can "to reverse this terrible verdict."
Barreto, a Brazilian, also contacted the permanent mission of Brazil to the UN "in light of the somewhat good relationship between the Brazilian and Iranian governments."
Baptists have been enjoined to make representation to their own governments on Nadarkhani's behalf. "We encourage Baptists in different countries to call on their government representatives to increase communication with the Iranian government on this situation." He noted that several countries such as Poland have summoned Iranian ambassadors to ask questions about the Nadarkhani case.
Nadarkhani, 34, was arrested in 2009, and received his first sentence in November 2010. After he appealed the verdict in June of this year, the court ruled he had to recant his faith or face the death sentence. On September 25, Nadarkhani was brought to court for three days to recant, but refused to do so.
As international pressure mounted against his possible execution, Iran's state-supported Fars News Agency claimed on October 1 that Nadarkhani was held on security-related charges of extortion and rape, not for apostasy and refusing to renounce his religion. These latest charges have been denied by his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.
Baptists have also been urged to pray for the pastor and for all Christians in the Middle Eastern country.