Placing Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s case into the hands of high Supreme Leader Ali Khameini could make or break Nadarkhani’s chances of an acquittal.
“Whatever decision is made there will be a hefty amount of people who are not happy with it,” Todd Nettleton, director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs USA, told The Christian Post.
Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor in Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for protesting. His charge was later changed to apostasy, or preaching Christianity to Muslims. He was found guilty in the lower, local court of the Gilan Province. After appealing his case to the Supreme Court, officials gave Nadarkhani an ultimatum: "renounce your faith or die."
When Nadarkhani refused to renounce Christianity on three separate occasions, the Supreme Court passed the case back down to the local Gilan court, arguing that if Nadarkhani was a practicing Muslim after age 15, he would be found guilty of apostasy.
Unable to confirm Nadarkhani’s belief in Islam after age 15, the lower court passed the case to Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, where it currently awaits a decision. Khameini is a highly regarded ayatollah and has the “ultimate authority in Iranian affairs.”
Critics argue that the decision was passed onto Khameini so courts could avoid backlash from local and international communities.
The international community is pushing for Nadarkhani’s acquittal, arguing that Iran is in violation of its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which allows freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion.
“The most unfortunate thing is that the U.N. is completely silent on this, which says a lot about where they are,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Christian Post.
“I wish [the] secretary of state would get a little tougher,” he added.
Iran’s local, radical Muslims are on the other side of the spectrum, pushing for those not worshipping Islam to be punished to set an example to the rest of the public.
“My personal read on the situation is that nobody wants to own the decision. There’s pressure on both sides,” Nettleton contended.
The local court lacks standing to sustain the potential backlash from either side. Therefore, the highly regarded Khameini has been given the sole responsibility for reviewing the decision.
“What I do know is that the Supreme Leader has spoken out against the house churches of Iran. He has talked about the growth of Christianity being a threat to the country,” said Nettleton.
“He would not be my first choice in someone to make a decision about the case,” he added.
Sekulow had a different opinion, telling The Christian Post that “it is better for the pastor because the decision is not under the kind of pressure from clerics or military.”
“There’s no authority higher,” Sekulow added.
Sekulow contends that it is international pressure combined with current events which has pushed Iran’s court to involve Khameini, referencing the recent attempted bomb threat on the United States by the elite Iranian revolutionary group Quds.
“In light of what has happened in the United States [on Tuesday] with terror issues, I think the Ayatollah is under even more pressure,” said Sekulow.
Although Khameini is not required to share his opinion with the public, any future move by Iranian court will signify that Khameini has made his decision.
International pressure has pushed Iranian court to confirm that Nadarkhani is currently alive awaiting his verdict.