US human rights group says Youcef Nadarkhani is in great danger

Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, is to be hanged “imminently”, an American human rights group is reporting.

The American Center for Law and Justice has been informed by contacts inside the Islamic republic that an execution order has been issued for Mr Nadarkhani, who has refused to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director for the American Center for Law and Justice, told American news site msnbc.com yesterday evening that “At this point, we can confirm that he is still alive,” but that “We know that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held in public — most executions in Iran are conducted in secret,” he said. “We are calling on the Iranian government to release the pastor immediately.”

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Mr Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old father of two, was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran’s northern city of Rasht in 2009.

An appeals court upheld his sentence last year after he refused to reconvert to Islam, after he had been given three chances to recant. A member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran, Mr Nadarkhani was never formally a Muslim but came from a Muslim background.

The sentence has been widely condemned around the world, by among others US president Barack Obama, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In October the Iranian state media claimed that Nadarkhani is facing the death sentence for rape and extortion, not for apostasy and evangelism.

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