Iranian pastor’s death sentence still stands

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has confirmed that an Iranian pastor’s death sentence for apostasy has not been annulled.

There had been reports that the Supreme Court of Iran had overturned the death sentence handed down to Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani by a lower court last year.

The organisation has this week received a copy of a written verdict from the Supreme Court that confirms a verbal notification made earlier this year stating that the pastor’s appeal against his sentence had been unsuccessful.

The written verdict asks the court in Rasht, which originally sentenced him, to re-examine procedural flaws in the case.

Despite this, however, it has “ultimately given local judges a free hand to decide whether to release, execute or retry Mr Nadarkhani in October”, CSW said.

Death sentences for apostasy are commonly overturned where those convicted repent of their conversion.

It is believed that the court in Rasht has been asked to ascertain whether Nadarkhani was a genuine Muslim.

If he were found not to have been a sincere Muslim at the time of his conversion, there would be a possibility of the sentence being reconsidered.

“The recent written verdict includes provision for annulment should Mr Nadarkhani recant his faith,” CSW confirmed.

It said that the Supreme Court may have been reluctant to overturn the original verdict because it was based on fatwas issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revoution, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran.

Mr Nadarkhani, of the Church in Iran, was attempting to register his church at the time of his arrest in his hometown of Rasht in October 2009.

He was charged with protesting but the charges were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims.

His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, was sentenced earlier this month to nine years in prison and banned from practising law or teaching at a university for 10 years for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime”.

He is appealing the sentence.

CSW’s advocacy director Andrew Johnston said he was “deeply disappointed” with the Supreme Court ruling.

He urged the international community to intervene to ensure a fair process for Mr Nadarkhani and his lawyer.

“The original decision in the Nadarkhani case is in violation of the international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICPPR), which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion,” he said.

“It also appears to violate article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.

“We have grave concerns about due process in his case, and that of Mr Dadhkhah, that may amount to a violation of Article 14:1 of the ICCPR, which stipulates the right to a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

“It is now imperative that international governments apply pressure to Iran, to ensure the full acquittal of both these men.”