Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-02) released the following statement with regard to Iranian authorities' release of Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was facing execution on charges of apostasy for refusing to recant his faith.
"As we rejoice in Pastor Yousef's release, we must also remind ourselves that, at no other point in recent history has it been more crucial for Congress and the free world to take action in defense of international religious freedom.
"A few months ago, the House of Representatives historically passed House Resolution 556 calling for Iran to uphold its international religious freedom commitments and release Pastor Yousef from imprisonment that had been based on his conversion from Islam to Christianity. This resolution was actively supported by the International Religious Freedom Caucus, which I have co-chaired for nearly seven years.
"Commitment to religious freedom is not just for one faith community but for people of all faiths throughout the world and across political lines. Religious freedom is not only for Americans or Christians or Republicans or Democrats; it is a sacred and unalienable right for all humanity. As such, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory, allows for the 'right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,' including the freedom to change one's religion or beliefs.
"Pastor Yousef was imprisoned and charged with apostasy in direct violation with the international standards of religious freedom that Iran had accepted and even further codified in its own Constitution.
"The Iranian government is one of the most horrific perpetrators of religious freedom violations and brutally represses its religious minorities. Pastor Yousef's case highlights a little-known, widespread crackdown on innocent Iranian citizens who dare to exercise their freedom of conscience and religion and resist the corrupt, totalitarian Iranian government.
"Pastor Yousef's case is thus a reminder that all of us who live in freedom are called to defend and give voice to those in Iran and all over the world who are oppressed and persecuted on account of their religious beliefs. His release is a reminder that miracles can happen and that freedom and justice can prevail against even the most brazen evil and oppression."
The case of Pastor Yousef is only one of many other deplorable religious freedom cases in Iran. A close personal friend of Pastor Yousef and a member of the Council of Elders for the Church of Iran described the egregious situation for Christians in the Middle East as strikingly similar to "the final decision in Germany," when the Nazis religiously and racially "cleansed" German society of the Jews. This elder ended by saying that the "international reaction [to the religious cleansing in the Middle East] is also like the time of Hitler. They waited and didn't react until it was too late."
In Iran, at least 285 Christians were arrested during the first half of 2011 without international reaction.
The bipartisan International Religious Freedom Caucus, including Congressmen Pitts (R-PA) and Ellison (D-MN) who have been leaders on behalf of the Pastor Yousef case, and over 60 other Members of Congress, remains committed to advocating for the religious freedom of people of all faiths, and ensuring that this fundamental right remains a priority in American foreign policy and refugee law.