February 23rd, 2012
07:59 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian charged with leaving Islam, has received a local trial courts final verdict, according to sources close to his legal team, and may now be executed for leaving Islam.
Jodran Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said he was informed on Monday by the pastor's legal team that the final execution order had been issued. At this point, said Sekulow, the pastor could be executed without the legal team's knowledge.
The White House issued a pointed statement on Thursday, strongly condemning the reports and renewed calls for Iranian authorities to release the pastor.
"This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran's international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values," stated a release by the White House. "The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution-a fundamental and universal human right. "
Mark Toner, spokesperson at the U.S. Department of State, released a similar statement on Thursday.
"We stand with religious and political leaders from around the world in condemning Youcef Nadarkhani's conviction and call for his immediate release," read the statement.
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. In an appeals trial in September 2011 at a lower court in Gilan province, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs and later refused to recognize Muhammad as his savior.
Mohammad Dadkhah, attorney for Nadarkhani, told CNN in October that the court has asked Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, the highest religious leader in Iran, for his input. At the time, the move was seen as unusual by the pastor's legal team.
Nadarkhani's case has become the cause célèbre for a number of Christian and legal organizations, including the ACLJ. From small churches to large organizations, Nadarkhani's case has galvanized American Christians.
Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that monitors and attempts to assist with persecuted and minority churches around the world, issued a statement on Thursday that they have seen posts for Nadarkhani to the groups Facebook page grow over the last few days.
But the issue has not been solely spearheaded by Christian organization - Muslim organizations have also been vocal about condemning Iran.
"These types of cases, especially around apostasy, are too frequent occurrences in the Muslim world and as a Muslim, I am appalled," said Harris Zafar, national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. "To do this in the name of Islam, I know that this isn't Islam. It is a violation of human rights and it is a violation of Islam."
Zafar, whose organization is considered more liberal than other Islamic communities, cited scripture to make his point. "Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve," reads the Quran 18:29.
The ACLJ was asked by the pastor's lawyers in 2011 to help publicize Nadarkhani's case, according to Sekulow. Since that time, Sekulow has been in somewhat regular contact with the pastor's legal team and the ACLJ have organized a Twitter campaign called "Tweet for Youcef."
Eighty-nine members of Congress signed a letter condemning Iran for their treatment of Nadarkhani and one congressman, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pennsylvania, issued a House resolution that if passed would stand as a condemnation from the entire House of Representatives.
Citing the Iranian constitution, the resolution "condemns the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its continued violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
Among the seven co-sponsors of the resolution is Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the first Muslim in Congress.
Though Sekulow said it was a strong sign that the White House and State Department have issued statements, he did tread cautiously when speaking about the future for this case and the volatility in Iran right now.
According to Sekulow, Nadarkhani's attorney's last confirmed their client was alive on Tuesday and are currently working to see if they are able to appeal any further.
"Based on all of the work (Nadarkhani's lawyers) have ever done before, they really felt this execution order is really serious," said Sekulow."His legal team is still trying to figure out if there are any legal routes left, but execution orders being issued is basically when people end up disappearing."
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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.