October 3rd, 2011
04:15 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Calls to stop the execution of Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor, continue to grow after a week in which demands for leniency came from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
On Monday, GOP presidential hopeful and Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement that called the pastor’s impending execution “unacceptable.”
“There is no shade of gray or room for equivocation here,” stated the news release. “Freedom to worship is a basic human right, and the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani are an affront to the essential principles of the civilized world.”
Last week, a number of members of Congress also released statements calling on Iran to release Nadarkhani. A statement by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the situation, “distressing for people of every country and creed.”
“While Iran’s government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith,” Boehner’s news release said. “This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity.”
Additionally, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Rep. James Lankford, R- Oklahoma; Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia; Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana; Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania; Rep. James McGovern, D-Massachusetts; and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia. have all released statements.
Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal organization founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, said his organization is working with members of Congress to ensure these statements continue.
“There will be more congressional support this week, absolutely there will be more and more group statements,” said Sekulow.
Nadarkhani, the leader of a network of house churches in Iran, was first convicted of apostasy in November 2010, a charge he subsequently appealed all the way to the Iranian Supreme Court. After four days of an appeals trial that started Sunday at a lower court in Gilan province, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs.
Reports by the semi-official Fars News Agency indicated that the charges against Nadarkhani have since changed and the pastor is now charged with rape and extortion.
"He is a Zionist and has committed security-related crimes,” Gholomali Rezvanii said in the Fars News report. Renvanii is the deputy governor of Gilan province, where Nadarkhani was tried and convicted.
The White House and State Department released statements on Thursday and Friday, respectively. The White House stated that Nadarkhani "has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for people."
Pastor Ellie Davidian, leader of The Living Hope Persian Church in San Diego, said the Iranian Christian population in America welcomes the outspokenness of the U.S. government.
“Anybody who can support to stop the execution will be appreciated,” Davidian told CNN. “The more and more we have pressure through the international media, then the Iranian government will be under more pressure as well.”
Davidian, who converted from Islam to Christianity after leaving Iran, went on to say while that her congregation will continue to pray for the pastor’s release, information on the issue is difficult to come by because of the tight control of information in Iran.
“What we see through media in Iran, it isn’t what it is in the heart of the people,” Davidian said.
Christian and conservative groups who hope to influence the Iranian government’s decision to put Nadarkhani to death have also been very vocal.
Voice of the Martyrs is a nonprofit, Christian organization that attempts to assist with persecuted and minority churches around the world. Todd Nettleton, spokesperson for Voice of the Martyrs, said their Facebook page has become a “link to the wider body of Christ” for their more than 100,000 followers.
Comments flood onto the Facebook page by the minute, as people exchange articles, post Bible verses and pray for Nadarkhani.
“In all honesty, I can’t think of a better use of my time than praying for this man,” said on Facebook user after posting Matthew 18:20.
“You can’t kill a Christian. You can only change his address,” reads a quote from Pastor Duke Downs that was posted my Voice of the Martyrs.
The quote has been shared almost 1,500 times in seven hours. More than 300 people have commented on the post and that number continues to grow.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.