The United States said Friday it is “deeply concerned” by what it said is Iran’s harsh crackdown on dissent, minority religious belief and freedom of expression.
The U.S. State Department expressed particular concern about the case of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces the death penalty after having refused to renounce Christianity for Islam.
“The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the Iranian government’s continued repression of its people,” the State Department said in a statement.
It accused Iran’s leaders of hypocrisy for “claiming support for the rights and freedoms of Iranian citizens and people in the region,” yet “the government continues its crackdown on all forms of dissent, belief, and assembly.”
The White House on Thursday warned Iran would show “utter disregard” for religious freedom if it carried out a death sentence on Nadarkhani, who became a pastor of a small evangelical community after converting from Islam.
The State Department said the death sentence hanging over Nadarkhani comes “amid a harsh onslaught against followers” of other minority faiths in Shiite-Muslim-majority Iran, including Zoroastrians, Sufis, and Bahais.
It also said “Iran’s government continues to arrest journalists and filmmakers. They are restricting access to information by jamming incoming satellite broadcasts and filtering the Internet…
“We continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran,” it said.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday joined calls for Iran to free the pastor.
“I urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect its international human rights commitments, including on freedom of religion or belief, and strongly appeal to Iran not to sentence Pastor Nadarkhani to death,” Ashton said in a statement.
“I call for Mr Nadarkhani’s immediate and unconditional release.”
Nadarkhani, who is in his 30s, became a pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran after converting from Islam at the age of 19.
Iranian authorities arrested him for apostasy in 2009 and sentenced him to death under Islamic Sharia law.
The pastor was spared by a supreme court appeal ruling in July, his lawyer told AFP, but was again condemned to death after the case was reheard at a court in his home town of Gilan, according to media reports.
The United States, Britain and France are among a host of countries who have previously called on Iran not to carry out the death penalty.