WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives on Thursday condemned Iran for sentencing an Iranian-born Christian pastor to death, in violation, US lawmakers said, of the "universal human right" of religion.
By a unanimous vote of 418-0, US lawmakers called in a symbolic resolution for the immediate release of Yusef Nadarkhani and condemned the "state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities" in Iran.
Nadarkhani, 34, converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19 and became pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.
He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy for abandoning his Muslim faith.
Islamic sharia law allows for such verdicts to be overturned if the convicted person "repents" and renounces his conversion, which Nadarkhani has refused to do.
Several Western countries including the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Poland have condemned the sentence and called for his release.
Nadarkhani's conviction was upheld by an appeals court in September 2010, but overturned by Tehran's supreme court, which sent the case back to the lower court in his hometown of Rasht.
Its vice governor, who is responsible for security and political affairs in the province, has since said that Nadarkhani's religious belief were not at issue, but has charged that he is "a Zionist, a traitor and has committed security crimes."
Human rights leaders fear that he can be executed at any time.
There has been "a significant increase in the number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding religious services, detaining worshippers and religious leaders, and harassing and threatening minority religious members," the House resolution reads.
It adds that all governments "have a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens and to pursue justice for all."
Initially, a lone "nay" vote against the measure was cast by Lois Capps, a California Democrat, but she later went to the floor of the House to say she meant to support the resolution, and the record was changed to 418-0.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights reported last year that Iran had secretly executed 146 people, and in 2010, Iran secretly executed more than 300 people.