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Conflicting reports surround Iranian pastor

TEHRAN (BP) — Confusing reports regarding the status of imprisoned Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani were circulating Wednesday as two news agencies reported that his case would be retried and two watch groups said the case remains under consideration by Iran’s supreme leader.

Reuters reported Oct. 11 that Iran’s Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court that tried him, saying there had been insufficient investigation before the original trial.

“The court will issue a new verdict,” Reuters said, citing the state-funded Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA), which had quoted a statement issued by the judiciary.

Agence France-Presse also reported a retrial for apostasy based on an ISNA report. Nadarkhani’s previous apostasy conviction carried a death sentence.

“In its statement, the supreme court noted it had quashed the initial conviction and sentencing ‘due to a technicality in the investigation,'” AFP said Oct. 11.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which has been following the case closely, acknowledged the confusion surrounding the Reuters report, which was similar to a report the news agency released nearly two weeks ago.

“While it is possible that this is a new development at the urging of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, we have no confirmation of this from Pastor Youcef’s attorney in Iran,” Jordan Sekulow, the ACLJ’s executive director, wrote in a post on the group’s website Oct. 11.

“More likely, it is rehashing of old news. As we have been reporting the Supreme Court of Iran had heard his case earlier this year and remanded it to the trial court to determine if Pastor Youcef was a Muslim after reaching the age of majority before converting to Islam,” Sekulow wrote.

“The Iranian Supreme Court has not heard this case since June 12, 2011, when it remanded the case to the trial court for ‘further investigat[ion] to prove that from puberty (15 years) to 19 [Youcef] was not Muslim by his acquaintances, relatives, local elders, and Muslims he frequented. He must repent his Christian faith if this is the case. No research has been done to prove this, if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out.’ It is this investigatory hearing, held on September 25-28, where Pastor Youcef refused to recant his faith,” Sekulow explained.

The ACLJ said it was still awaiting the local court’s written verdict.

“The latest confirmed reports remain that the trial court is seeking the opinion of the Supreme Leader on this case,” Sekulow wrote.

Also, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in a tweet Oct. 12, said news that Nadarkhani may be offered a retrial is incorrect. “As reported his case has been referred to Iran’s supreme leader,” CSW said.

Meanwhile, the ACLJ reported Oct. 12 that 58 members of Congress, including 18 Democrats, have signed a letter asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to advocate for Nadarkhani’s release. Notably, Rep. Keith Ellison, D.-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, was among them.

Nadarkhani, 32, was arrested in 2009 and charged with apostasy, an offense punishable by hanging. A lower court found that while he had never been Muslim, he was guilty of apostasy because he came from a Muslim family. The Iranian Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.

Nadarkhani’s refusal to recant his faith has inspired Christians worldwide. The ACLJ reported one of his court exchanges.

“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” he asked.

“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.

“I cannot,” Nadarkhani responded.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.

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