Iranian Pastor's Fate May Rest With Ayatollah Khamenei

The attorney for Youcef Nadarkhani told CNN Monday that the persecuted Iranian pastor was still alive, though it remained uncertain whether the government would actually carry out his execution.

The decision, said Mohammad Dadkhah, who is representing Nadarkhani in his legal appeal, may ultimately rest with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Christian pastor’s fate was to be decided Monday, but Iran’s Supreme Court took the unusual step of asking Khamenei, Iran’s highest religious and political leader, for his input.

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Nadarkhani’s persecution began in October 2009 when he was arrested for refusing to comply with the Iranian government’s requirement that non-Muslim schoolchildren read the Quran.

The head of a 400-strong home church movement in Iran protested that the Islamic republic’s constitution allowed children to be reared according to their parents’ faith.

In September 2010, a court in Iran’s Gilan province sentenced Nadarkhani to death by hanging for “convert(ing) to Christianity” and “encourag(ing) other Muslims to convert to Christianity.”

Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the Christian pastor’s death sentence this year, while ordering a reexamination of the case. That reexamination occurred two weeks ago.

Nadarkhani “was brought to court to repent for three days,” Dadkhah told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “He denied repentance on all three days. The judge kept asking my client to say, ‘I have renounced Christianity and I recognize Islam as rescinder of all other religions,’ and he kept saying, ‘I won’t say that.’”

Meanwhile, the deputy governor of Gilan province said recently that Nadarkhani was not convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for “converting others to Christianity,” as widely reported in the Western media, but for certain “security-related crimes.”

Those purported crimes, according to Gholomali Rezvani, in remarks reported by Fars news agency – the Iranian government’s unofficial house organ – include rape and extortion.

But CNN reported Monday that there were no such charges in a 2010 Iranian Supreme Court brief the cable news network recently obtained. The only charge listed is apostasy, the crime of abandoning Iran’s state religion.

Nadarkhani "has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim," the brief reads. "During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging."

If Khamenei affirms Nadarkhani’s conviction and the Christian pastor is hanged, he will be the first Iranian executed for apostasy in more than 20 years.

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