The attorney for an Iranian Christian pastor who is facing the death penalty for the crime of apostasy said he is optimistic his client will be acquitted and freed.
Youcef Naderkhani has refused to renounce his Christian faith in a case that has sparked global fury against Iran and appeals for clemency.
According to a report in BBC, Naderkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, said there was a 95 percent chance he will be freed.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner also has already spoken out against Iran.
While Iran's government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity. I urge Iran's leaders to abandon this dark path, spare [Nadarkhani's] life, and grant him a full and unconditional release, said Boehner.
Naderkhani, 32, reportedly was born Muslim and converted to Christianity at the age of 19. He became a pastor of a 400-person Church of Iran congregation in the northern city of Rasht.
He was arrested two years ago and sentenced to death in 2010 by a court of appeals. His crime was apostasy, or abandoning his Muslim faith.
Iran’s Supreme Court said Naderkhani could be freed if he renounced his Christian religion.
The Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, told BBC: As a Christian I can't do that [refute my faith]. In a much lesser way I have faced these questions myself, and I would ask for myself for strength in this situation and courage, and that is what I would ask for him. But at the same time to ask that understanding and compassion and clemency be exercised by those who are in authority.
Nazir-Ali sad Iranians are likely concerned about the growth of Christianity in the country and may want to make an example of Naderhkani.
He added that the death penalty has not been imposed in Iran in such a case since 1990.
Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he could be put to death as soon as Friday.
Even if the sentence were commuted, Nadarkhani could still face life in prison. And even if he were released, there would still be danger.
In Iran about 18 years ago, they had released a pastor, but then came and assassinated him and his bishop later. We cannot stop the pressure, Pastor Firouz Sadegh-Khandjani, a Member of the Council of Elders for the Church of Iran, told the American Center for Law and Justice.
Between June 2010 and January 2011, more than 200 people in Iran were arrested for their religious beliefs, according to Elam Ministries, a United Kingdom-based church with ties to Iran.
In August, a pastor named Haghnejad was arrested for the third time, according to Christian Solidarity. Police also confiscated 6,500 bibles, which Iran's social issues committee deemed were being used to deceive youths.