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Top European official urges Iran to halt execution of Christian pastor

Geneva (ENInews) The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, urged Iran to release a Christian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy amid reports his execution may be imminent.

A similar appeal came from the White House on Feb. 23. Pastor Nadarhkani, a 34 year-old minister of the Church of Iran and leader of a 400-member congregation in the city of Rasht, was initially sentenced to death in November 2010 by a state court for apostasy (abandonment of a religion) and evangelizing Muslims.

In 2011 his case was appealed to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the authority to uphold or repeal the death sentence. “The execution of Pastor Nadarkhani on apostasy charges would be another illustration of the deteriorating situation of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said a spokesman for Ashton in a statement issued in Brussels. Ashton urged the Islamic Republic of Iran “to respect its international human rights commitments.”

“She strongly calls on Iran not to execute Pastor Nadarkhani. He should be released immediately,” said the spokesman.

Senior Western diplomatic sources, speaking on the condition of non-attribution, told ENInews that according to “reliable sources in the Iranian judiciary,” the pastor would be executed soon.