Execution still a possibility for Iranian pastor

A written verdict from an Iranian court has cast further doubt on reports that the death sentence of an Iranian pastor has been annulled.

The US-based Present Truth Ministries said the awaited written verdict had been handed down from the Supreme Court to the lawyer of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is appealing his death sentence for apostasy.

The organisation said it had not seen a translation of the verdict yet, but that its Iranian sources report that the written verdict does not annul the death sentence.

One source told the organisation that the Supreme Court appears to have agreed with the death sentence as “it is based on fatwas of Ayatollahs Khomeini, Khamenei and Makarem Shirazi”.

“While agreeing with the death sentence, the Supreme Court pointed out procedural flaws and is asking the lower court to re-examine the case,” the source said.

“This is the only binding point of the ruling.”

Another Iranian source told the organisation that there was no guarantee that the pastor would not be executed before the case was re-examined.

Present Truth said it appeared that judges were looking for clarification from the lower court on whether Pastor Nadarkhani was truly a Muslim before converting to Christianity.

If the pastor was formerly a genuine Muslim and does not repent of his conversion, then the death sentence would remain.

If he was not a true Muslim, the verdict would not be appropriate for the case, the organisation said.

In the written verdict of the lower court, Pastor Nadarkhani was quoted as saying that he had never truly believed in Islam, nor had he been a genuinely practising Muslim.

The pastor asserts that he was born into a Muslim family but never accepted the faith himself.

If the court re-examines the extent of his faith, it may decide to release him or force a re-trial, but execution remains a possibility.

Jason DeMars, of Present Truth said: “At this point, the most likely outcome appears to be a re-trial later this year, perhaps in the fall.

“It is important to remember that the Supreme Court did not annul the verdict that was based upon the fatwas of the Supreme Leader.

“Brother Youcef remains under the death sentence at this time.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has also come out to say that its partners in Iran have challenged reports of an annulment.

It has called on the international community to put pressure on Iran to ensure due process in the case.