Iran's Supreme Leader to Rule on 'Highly Political' Execution of Christian Pastor

Iranian Judiciary Take Extraordinary Measure After Pressure From Local and International Communities

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  • Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
    (Reuters/Khamenei.ir)
    This file photo shows Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei smiles while attending an official meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (not pictured) in Tehran November 29, 2010.
By Katherine Weber, Christian Post Reporter
October 13, 2011|9:21 pm

Iran’s judicial system is receiving intense pressure from both international and local sources concerning the court case of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. An Iranian court previously sentenced the Christian pastor to execution for not recanting his faith in Jesus, but the execution has, for the moment, been put on hold and in a highly irregular move has been sent for “review" by Iran's Supreme Leader.

Recent reports had indicated that the Supreme Court in Iran had sent the case for retrial, however, The Christian Post has now clarified conflicting reports, and can now confirm that the case is only "under review" by Iran's judicial Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. A retrial is just one of a number of potential decisions Khamenei can enforce, and uncertainty surrounding the life of Pastor Nadarkhani continues.

“It has become a highly political situation,” Todd Nettleton, Director of Media development for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, told The Christian Post.

Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor in Iran, was arrested in October 2009 for protersting, but later his charge was changed to apostasy, or preaching Christianity to Muslims. He was found guilty in the lower court of the local Gilan Province.

He appealed his case in December 2010, taking it to the Supreme Court of Iran. The Supreme Court retorted by stating that Nadarkhani’s Muslim ancestry makes him guilty, giving him the ultimatum: “renounce or die.”

Nadarkhani was given three opportunities to renounce his religion. When he did not renounce his faith, the Supreme Court responded by passing the case back to the lower court of the Gilan Province, stating that if the court could prove Nadarkhani was a Muslim after age 15, he would be found guilty.

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After the court was unable to confirm Nadarkhani’s belief in Islam after age 15, rather than granting the pastor his freedom, it instead passed the case to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the “ultimate authority in Iranian affairs.”

Critics argue that the immense international attention the case received, with countries such as the U.S., France, and Britain urging Nadarkhani’s acquittal, have caused the courts to pass the case to Khamenei.

“[It is] incredibly rare for a court to send a case to the supreme leader. [It] just doesn’t happen,” contended Nettleton.

“My personal read on the situation is that nobody wants to own the decision. There’s pressure on both sides,” he added.

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.

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.

“Whatever decision is made there will be hefty amount of people who are not happy with it,” contended Nettleton.

The local court lacks standing to sustain the potential backlash from either side. Therefore, the highly regarded Khamenei 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.

Currently, the only information being provided to the public is that Nadarkhani is alive and awaiting a review and decision by Khamenei.

 

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