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Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, was the pastor of a 400 member congregation in Iran before he was arrested in Oct. 2009 and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. (Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, told Fox News Monday that Iran is using the case of Youcef Nadarkhani as political leverage, using the sanctions enacted against the country as an excuse to keep the Christian pastor imprisoned.
As Sekulow told Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly, he believes the Iranian regime is trying to use Nadarkhani's case as a "bargaining chip" against the sanctions placed by the U.S. on Iran.
"That's just not right. We're not going to let that happen," Sekulow told Kelly.
On Feb. 16, the United States announced sanctions on Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which is accused of supporting terrorist activities, abusing human rights and supporting Syria's government crackdown, according to Reuters.
Iran has also had increased tensions with Israel, which has accused Iran of producing nuclear weapons which may threaten Israel in the future. Iran's refusal to cooperate with the international community regarding its nuclear weapon production has led to its estrangement in some circles.
Iran argues that its nuclear arms program is meant for peaceful purposes.
According to the Tehran Times, the U.S. plans to limit Iran's oil revenue by pressing European countries to boycott Iranian oil.
"[Iran] is trying to turn this into a political ploy to deal with the Iranian issue overall: the sanctions [and] the pressure that's coming now between the Israelis and the Iranians," Sekulow said.
Sekulow told Fox News that the international community must ignore Iran's attempts to distract it, and remember that Nadarkhani's case is one involving human rights, not politics.
"What we have to do is, we have to focus on the fact that this is a human rights case. The political issues aren't going to away with or without this pastor," he said.
Nadarkhani was imprisoned by Iranian authorities in Oct. 2009, and charged with apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. Recently, on Feb. 21, the ACLJ announced that Iranian officials may have issued an execution order for the Iranian pastor.
Sekulow also noted Monday Iran's violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Middle Eastern country signed in 1948.
Regardless of Iran's political activities, the international community has maintained a steady watch on the plight Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
So far, the United States, Europe Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico, and Germany have all condemned Iran's continued imprisonment of Nadarkhani.
As the ACLJ contends, Iran may execute Nadarkhani in private. As of now, the ACLJ has confirmed that Nadarkhani is alive.
Nadarkhani's wife, Fatema Pasindedih, and two sons, Daniel, age 9, and Yoel, age 7, await further news on his fate.
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