Washington, D.C. (February 24, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Iranian pastor received a court order to be executed by hanging earlier this week for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity.

Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader in Rasht, Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for denouncing Iran’s educational practice that requires children to read the Quran in public schools.

In September 2010, Nadarkhani was orally issued the death sentence for converting to Christianity from Islam in the province of Gilan. A formal verdict was handed down on November 13, 2010, announcing that Nadarkhani would be executed by hanging.

Nadarkhani appealed the sentence and was summoned to an appellate court in October 2011 where he was told to renounce his Christian faith at three separate hearings. “I cannot,” Nadarkhani said.

In mid-December, the judge over Nadarkhani’s case was ordered by the head of the judiciary to postpone the announcement of the verdict for another year following aggressive international pressure calling for Nadarkhani’s release. However, on February 21, reports began surfacing that a final verdict had been issued for Nadarkhani’s execution.

The sentence came only days after U.S. congressmen supported a resolution sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Joseph Pitts denouncing the apostasy charge and calling for Nadarkani’s immediate release. The White House and the U.S. State Department also released statements on Thursday condemning Iran’s religious freedom abuses.

This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values,” the White House said. “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.

Aidan Clay, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s execution may occur any day now. While execution orders are occasionally drawn out, more often than not prisoners are killed in secret without the world knowing until the body is dropped at the family’s doorstep. However, one thing is certain: international pressure has played an integral role in keeping Nadarkhani alive thus far. Now is not the time to lose hope, but to remain ardent in prayer and to fight this injustice by raising as much awareness as possible. Most likely, the Iranian government will listen to nothing else but worldwide condemnation.

CC (International Christian Concern), www.persecution.org. ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church.