Yousef Nadarkhani

Iran is drawing widespread criticism for the imminent execution of Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy.

AFP reports that British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Iran to overturn Nadarkhani’s sentence, expressing concern over reports that his execution is imminent after he refused to recant his Christian beliefs and return to Islam.

At the same time, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner called on Iran to spare Nadarkhani’s life, saying: “I urge Iran’s leaders to abandon this dark path, spare Yousef Nadarkhani’s life, and grant him a full and unconditional release.”

Nadarkhani, an Iranian Baptist pastor, was arrested along with his wife in October 2009 in the city of Rasht. Both had converted from Islam to Christianity.

Nadarkhani was charged with “apostasy, inviting other Muslims to Christianity, setting up a secret church at his home and blatant opposition to Islam.”

His death sentence for the crime of reverting from Islam was approved by the Gilan provincial appellate court. But in July, the SupremeCourt announced that if Nadarkhani repented, the death sentence would be rescinded.

His trial began Sunday and stretched until yesterday, when he refused to recant his Christian faith.

British Foreign Secretary Hague reacted by saying: “I deplore reports that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith.”

He went on to accuse Iran of “an unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom.”

The 32-year-old Nadarkhani converted to Christianity at the age of 19 and is a pastor for a small group of missionaries that go by the name of the Church of Iran.

His attorney, Mohammadali Dadkhah, says neither Iranian law nor the clergy have ever stipulated the death sentence as punishment for converting to Christianity from Islam.

The activities of Christian missionaries are considered illegal in Iran, and the Tehran governor referred to them earlier as a “corrupt and deviated” movement.