By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been asked to decide whether an evangelical pastor should be executed for apostasy, or abandoning Islam, sources close to the case said Monday, October 10.
“The delivery of [pastor] Youcef Nadarkhani’s verdict has been delayed again by the court in Gilan province,” said Jason DeMars, director of Present Truth Ministries (PTM), which assists the pastor. “The reason for the delay, according to his attorney, Mohammed Dadkhah, is because they have referred the case to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” he told BosNewsLife.
There were no immediate comments from Iranian officials.
“It is very unusual for a court to ask for the legal opinion of the Supreme Leader. However, there is nothing normal about this case,” DeMars said. It came after last week Iranian officials reportedly visited the pastor in prison asking him about the behaviour of judges.
The 34-year-old pastor, who is married with two children, was detained in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 while attempting to register his church.
Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, in September 2010 and sentenced to death by the court in Rasht, according to court documents. In June this year Iran’s Supreme Court upheld Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s death sentence, but asked the lower court in Rasht to “re-examine” whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim prior to converting to Christianity.
The Rasht court made clear last week that Nadarkhani can be executed if he refuses to recant his Christian face because of his “Muslim ancestry.” Iran has been under pressure from Western countries to release the pastor, who leads a 400-person Church of Iran congregation.
In response, Tehran launched what Christians described as “a media campaign” denying that Nadarkhani faces a death sentence for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, despite a written court decision monitored by BosNewsLife.
On Saturday, October 1, Deputy Governor of Iran’s Gilan Province, Ali Rezvani, said Nadarhhani is guilty of “security charges” and “running a brothel” but added “his verdict has not been finalized,” Iran’s state-run Press TV network reported. “This individual is guilty and his crime is not attempting to convert others to Christianity, rather his crimes are of a security nature,” he was quoted as saying.
Iran’s Supreme Court did not mention security crimes in its recent written verdict seen by BosNewsLife and Christian rights activists claim the Islamic nation looks for other reasons to execute the pastor.
DeMars told BosNewsLife he had written to his supporters to “pray and take action for him.”