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U.S. Concerned Over Religious Persecution In Iran

Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been in jail since October 2009
The United States has expressed dismay over reports an Iranian may face the death penalty over his religious beliefs.

Youcef Nadarkhani could become the first Iranian put to death for apostasy since 1990 if he refuses to recant his Christian faith.

In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "while Iran's leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, they continue to detain, imprison, harass and abuse those who simply wish to worship the faith of their choosing."

The fate of the 32-year-old Nadarkhani remains unclear.

His lawyer told AFP on July 3 that Iran's Supreme Court had overturned the death sentence against Nadarkhani.

However, the lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, told the French news agency that the Supreme Court had sent the case back to a lower court in Rasht, Nadarkhani's hometown. Dadkhah also added that his client is still required to recant his faith.

Nuland said Nadarkhani was "just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran."

Nuland noted that seven leaders of the Baha'i community had their prison terms increased to 20 years for practicing their faith.

Nuland also said hundreds of Sufis had been flogged in public because of their beliefs.

Nadarkhani converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19. He then became a pastor in a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.

He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy under Iran's Islamic Shari'a laws.

His conviction was upheld by an appeals court in Gilan Province in September, 2010. At that point, Nadarkhani turned to the country's Supreme Court.

Nadarkhani's lawyer also finds himself in trouble with Iran's authorities.

Dadkhah said a Tehran court on July 3 sentenced him to nine years in jail and slapped him with a 10-year ban on practicing law or teaching at a university for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime."

compiled from agency reports

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