(Photo: Courtesy of ACLJ.org)
Various media sources are attempting to sift through the confusion surrounding the “review” of death row pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s appeal to Iran’s Supreme Court.
According to Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, the confusion began around the word “retrial” reported by Reuters’ sources in Iran. The Christian Post can now clarify that the case has not been posted for retrial, but rather it is being “reviewed” by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“[This is] unprecedented and unusual, a part of why there is so much media confusion,” Sekulow told The Christian Post.
The case began in October 2009 when Nadarkhani protested at the local school of his two sons. The government had recently passed a law stating that Islam must be imposed on children in local school, and even on Christian children.
Nadarkhani publicly protested at the school, stating the law was unconstitutional because it did not allow the free practice of religion. His protest caught the attention of the police and government.
On October 12, 2009, secret police put him in front of a tribunal for protesting charges. Before moving to the next stage of trial, Nadarkhani's charges were changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims.
He was tried in local Rasht court for apostasy, or a renunciation of Islam, and evangelizing Muslims.
In September 2010, he was given the death sentence for apostasy. The written sentence was delayed until November 2010.
He appealed his case in December 2010, taking it to the Supreme Court of Iran. His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, argued that because he was not a practicing Muslim before becoming a pastor, he did not technically “renounce” Islam.
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 days to renounce Christianity.
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 at any stage after age 15, he would be found guilty.
After extensive interviews with Nadarkhani’s family and childhood friends, the court could not prove that Nadarkhani was a Muslim after age 15.
The case has now been passed on to Khamenei, who has the “ultimate authority in Iranian affairs,” according to CNN.
“Until Ayatollah Khamenei gives his opinion to the appeals court, something that may not be public, or decides to resolve the matter outside the judicial process, we will not know if an appeal to the Supreme Court will be required,” said Sekulow.
Unlike the U.S. Court system, Iran’s courts are able to pass information to various Supreme Court leaders for their opinion and review.
Execution due to apostasy is not a written law in Iran. It is, however, a fatwa, or a verbal code initiated by Muslim leaders in powerful political positions, therefore allowing it to hold sway in legal court. The high religious leaders Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini have backed this fatwa.
According to article 167 of the Iranian constitution, “If such a basis doesn’t exist, [the court] must cite reliable Islamic sources or a valid fatwa from which they have drawn a judgment in order to issue a verdict.”
This is why Supreme Leader Khamenei’s opinion has now been requested for the case.
“The judicial system in Iran operates in a substantially different way than court systems Americans are familiar with,” Sekulow stated.
The most current news is that Nadarkhani remains alive in Iran, awaiting Khamenei’s decision.