As Christians around the world file into church services this Sunday, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will mark a somber anniversary: 1,000 days in prison.
It has been almost three years since Iranian officials arrested Nadarkhani, 34, and charged him with apostasy against Islam. The husband and father of two young sons is also pastor of a Christian church with several hundred members in the city of Rashat.
Nadarkhani denies the apostasy charges, saying he never embraced Islam. An Iranian court found that the pastor had not practiced Islam as an adult, but still sentenced him to death by hanging since he was born into a Muslim home.
Nadarkhani has refused pressure to recant his Christian faith in exchange for his freedom. It's unclear if judges are still considering his appeal, especially in light of a recent development: In early May, authorities sentenced the pastor's attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, to nine years in prison for charges that include crimes against national security.
Now Nadarkhani may face new charges: The U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that Iranian judges may level fresh charges against the pastor in September, including crimes against national security and blasphemy. A new conviction could give judges fresh impetus to carry out a death sentence against Nadarkhani. CSW reports the trial date may come on Sept. 8, 2012.
Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said last week that Nadarkhani has local lawyers, but it's unclear how effective that representation might be in a new trial.
Meanwhile, Georgia-based Elam Ministries reports that an Iranian court has upheld a six-year prison sentence against another evangelical pastor. Authorities first arrested Farshid Fathi Malayeri in December 2010 during raids that targeted a slate of Christians and house church members, charging the pastor with administering funds for foreign organizations. Elam Ministries reports that Malayeri will serve his six-year sentence in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.
As Nadarkhani approaches his 1,000th day in jail, news about his condition has been scarce. The most recent report came in mid-May when the ACLJ published an open letter that the pastor reportedly wrote from prison on May 7.
In that letter, Nadarkhani asked Christians to continue to pray for him and addressed his family and congregation: "I need to remind my beloveds, though my trial has been so long, and as in the flesh I wish these days to end, yet I have surrendered myself to God's will."