Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 13 October 2011
Iran’s Supreme Leader to rule on Pastor Nadarkhani’s case
Country/Region: Iran, Middle East and North Africa
The court that is reconsidering the verdict of condemned pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has referred the case to the country’s Supreme Leader, the ultimate political and religious authority in Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei will now determine the outcome for Nadarkhani, who has been appealing against his death sentence for apostasy, which was formally issued last November.
His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, said that it was unusual for a judicial case to be forwarded to the Supreme Leader and that he hoped the death sentence would be overturned in keeping with Iran’s international agreements.
The referral is likely to further delay the issuing of a written verdict, which had been expected within a week of Nadarkhani’s latest court hearing in Rasht at the end of September. At that trial, the father of two was asked on three separate occasions to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the charge of apostasy and lifting of the death sentence, but he refused each time.
There have been confusing and contradictory statements from the Iranian authorities regarding the Nadarkhani case. They appear to be trying various tactics in response to sustained international pressure to overturn the death sentence and release him.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
In an apparent attempt to justify the penalty, fabricated charges were levelled at the pastor on 30 September by the deputy governor of Gilan province, where the trial took place; he said that Nadarkhani was a rapist, an extortionist, a Zionist and was guilty of “security-related crimes”, adding, “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion”.
Then on Monday (10 October) Iran’s Prosecutor General adopted a much more civilised approach. He denied that any verdict had been issued, saying that the case was “still at the investigation level and it’s open”. He added:
Of course the accused has the right to appeal at every level of the investigation but the inquiry about this case has not been finished.
Other death threats
Meanwhile, 11 Iranian Christians who fled the country in the wake of a government crackdown on the house church movement have been threatened by email with extra-judicial execution if they do not repent. The threats came from “the unknown soldiers of the Hidden Imam”, which are allegedly linked to the Iranian security services. They warned the Christians that although they had managed to escape from the country, they were not hidden from the “acute eyes of the unknown soldiers”.