PC(USA) leaders call for release of Iranian pastor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (PNS) Top leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have called on the Iranian government to release the Rev. Yousef Nadarkhani, a 33-year-old minister of the Church of Iran and pastor of a 400-member congregation in the city of Rasht, who was sentenced to death in November 2010 by a state court for apostasy (abandonment of a religion) and evangelizing Muslims.

Following an appeal, the court, according to an unofficial translation provided by the Washington DC-based American Center for Law and Justice, determined that “if it can be proved that [Yousef] was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented (of his conversion), the execution will be carried out.”

Nadarhkani refused to repent and earlier this week an appeals court in Iran upheld the apostasy verdict and execution sentencing. No date for his execution has been announced.

The appeal to the Iranian government for Nadarhkani’s release was issued by General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, General Assembly Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine.

The full text of the PC(USA) leaders’ appeal, dated Sept. 30:

“It is with sobering alarm that we have learned of the conviction and possible death sentence of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani by Iranian authorities because he will not renounce his Christian faith.

“Pastor Nadarkhani’s devotion to his faith is an expression of a universal human right. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed that the principles of human rights and religious freedom are indivisible: ‘Religious freedom does not only imply freedom of conscience but also the right to live in accord with religious values and the recognition of cultural and religious diversity as basic to human reality.’

“Echoing the statement by the White House press secretary on September 29, 2011, we ‘call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.’”