Faced with mounting international pressure over the death sentence handed out to Christian pastor Yucef Nadarkhani, Iran has said the charges were not related to apostasy but rape, extortion and threat to national security.
This individual has committed crimes, but his crime is not, as some claim, recanting Islam or converting others to Christianity, the deputy governor-general of Gilan province for political and security affairs, Gholam-Ali Rezvani, told the official Fars News Agency.
Nadarkhani's case drew worldwide attention last week, when reports said he would soon be executed on charges of apostasy.
Nadarkhani, who was convicted of apostasy in 2010 and is kept in a prison in the city of Rasht, had refused to abandon his faith publicly in a court, despite the court reportedly asking him to take that option and avoid death by hanging.
Rezvani criticized the Western media's coverage of the issue and said Nadarkhani has committed several violent crimes, including repeated rape and extortion, Fars News reported.
He is guilty of security-related crimes. ... The issue of crime and of capital punishment of this individual is not related to his faith or religion as in our system, no one can be executed for changing his/her religion, Rezvani said.
Fars also reported that there was no clarity about the court's final decision in the controversial case. The report said that, according to an informed source, the Supreme Court has not yet heard from the court that is considering Nadarkhani's appeal.
Yousef Nadarkhani's death sentence was sent to the Supreme Court in 2010, and it was overruled after a year. ... The Supreme Court has referred the case to a second court to be verified again, but it has not received the result of this verification yet, the source was quoted by Fars as saying.
Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old Christian pastor with a wife and two children, was arrested in October 2009 while he was trying to register his church. He was found guilty of apostasy, or abandoning Islam, and sentenced to death.
According to the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, Nadarkhani was sentenced in September 2010 and, in November 2010, received a written verdict with a sentence of execution by hanging.
While it is technically legal in Iran to profess one's Christian faith, what has earned Nadarkhani the death sentence is the charge that he is an apostate -- one who renounced his Muslim faith to embrace another religion. The accusation is that he was raised a Muslim but converted to Christianity.
Despite finding that he had not converted as an adult, an Iranian court this week demanded that Mr. Nadarkhani recant his Christian faith because of his Muslim ancestry, says USCIRF.
Rezvani countered the allegations that Nadarkhani was sentenced for death on apostasy charges, but said the Christian pastor was a Zionist. . ... this Islamic state has nothing to do with those who have embraced other religions .... But he (Nadarkhani) is a Zionist, a traitor and had committed security crimes, Rezvani said.