By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos.
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christians on Wednesday, July 11, urged prayers "for everyone" involved in the case of an Iranian pastor who marked his 1,000th day behind bars while awaiting possible execution for refusing to recant his faith in Christ and return to Islam.
"Sunday marked the 1,000th day that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been illegally detained in prison in Iran...A new trial date [with fresh charges including 'threatening national security' and possible 'blasphemy'] has been scheduled for September 8th," said Jason DeMars, who assists the church leader with advocacy.
DeMars, director of the advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, told BosNewsLife that Nadarkhani has not "officially" been notified about the new charges.
"There is speculation that he will be charged with a lesser crime and that he will be pardoned for [the death-sentencing carrying charge of] 'Apostasy'", or abandoning Islam, "but this is only speculation and has not been confirmed by official notice or other means," explained De Mars.
Only Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary, have the authority to halt an execution, according to trial observers.
"I think judges would rather release him, but are under pressure by hardliners to execute him," explained Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the pastor's Church of Iran house church movement told BosNewsLife earlier this year.
"That's why the court asked the Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini for an opinion so they can say they are not responsible for his execution," he added.
Officials reportedly visited Nadarkhani asking him to recant his faith, or at least publicly acknowledge Prophet Muhammed as "God's messenger" in exchange for freedom, something he refused.
"We ask for continued prayer for everyone involved in Youcef’s case, especially the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei and the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani," DeMars wrote in a statement to his group's predominantly Christian supporters.
"Ask the Lord to guide and direct their hearts, that they would see the truth and by it be set free."
There has been international concern about the imprisonment of the 35-year-old Nadarkhani, who is married with two children. In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it noted that "July 8 marked 1,000 days Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has spent in an Iranian prison."
The Department said that "Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith," adding that "and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately.”
DeMars said hes group "applaud the State Department for taking this stand."