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Condemning Iran for Its Persecution of Youcef Nadarkhani

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, a young Christian pastor sits today in prison in Iran--separated from his wife and young children, facing the death penalty--because he will not lie about his beliefs. He will not lie even to save himself.

He will not lie even to spare his family suffering. He is a man of extraordinary conviction. A man of decision. A man who knows what he believes. Youcef Nadarkhani will follow his conscience though it cost him everything.

Iranian courts have repeatedly asked him, on pain of death, to reject his Christian faith and say that he believes in Islam. He responds, ``I cannot.''

The resolution (H. Res. 556) on the floor this evening is not an attempt to say which religion is right. Rather, this is a resolution that affirms that Youcef Nadarkhani has the God-given right--even the responsibility--to believe as his conscience directs him.

No human government should interfere.

Iran is a member of the United Nations and signatory to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both documents affirm that that every individual has ``the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,'' which includes the ``freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance;''

Under international law voluntarily agreed to by Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani has the right to change his religion.

He was free to change from Islam to Christianity. He is free to change back.

But the government of Iran is NOT free to force him in either direction. Iran has made a commitment to leave men like Youcef Nadarkhani in peace. This resolution calls on Iran to follow international law.

Iran sets aside seats in its Parliament for Christians and permits hundreds of churches to function across the country. And yet it also cracks down on religious minorities, falsely seeing them as a security threat.

The most recent U.S. State Department Religious Freedom Report lists numerous cases of arrest and detention of Christians, both lay people and leaders. For instance:

On April 11, 2010, government agents arrested 19-year-old Daniel Shahri, a Christian, on the basis of insulting Islam. Shahri was able to contact his parents on April 14, 2010, while being held in a prison in Isfahan. He was released on April 24, 2010 on bail and awaits a trial date .....

On January 8, 2010, the Fars Provincial Ministry of Intelligence detained an unknown number of persons who were reportedly Christians. Under interrogation the detainees gave the names of those leading Christian groups in the area leading to further arrest.

On December 24, 2009, Pakdasht security forces raided a home-church gathering and arrested the 15 members who were in attendance. All 15 were released in early January with orders to return to sign documents. Upon returning three were rearrested and held until March 17 when they were released .....

The report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom underscores the danger to Muslim converts to Christianity in Iran and a recent increase in arrests. This report, issued in May 2011, indicates that:

Since June 2010, more than 250 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested throughout the country....... In December 2010 and January 2011 alone, approximately 120 Christians were arrested....... During the reporting period, the number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, harassing and threatening church members, and arresting, convicting, and imprisoning worshippers and church leaders has increased significantly. Christians, particularly Evangelical and other Protestants, are subject to harassment, arrests, close surveillance, and imprisonment; many are reported to have fled the country. (emphasis added)

Tragically, Youcef Nadarkhani is not the only believer in prison. He is just the only one we know of who is facing the death penalty for apostasy.

Whatever the political conflicts between the United States and Iran, whatever the tensions over weapons--human rights do not change. Iran's signature on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has not changed.

All nations, including Iran, must respect the consciences and religious freedom of their citizens--and not practice religious coercion.

Youcef Nadarkhani is not a political pawn. He is a person--a person being prayed for by citizens around the world.

Tonight, the U.S. Congress stands with him and with all people of conscience, calling on the Government of Iran to release him and ensure his safety.


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