Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who had been sentenced to death for committing the act of apostasy, now apparently faces completely different charges.
On Friday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that Nadarkhani will now be executed for charges of rape, extortion and other violent crimes.
Gholomali Rezvani, the deputy governor of Gilan province in northwestern Iran, where Nadarkhani was tried and convicted, blamed western media for intentionally obfuscating the real facts behind the case.
His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity, Rezvani told Fars.
He is guilty of security-related crimes. The issue of crime and of capital punishment of this individual is not a question of faith or religion -- in our system, one cannot be executed for changing their religion.”
Rezvani also accused Nadarkhani of being a “traitorous Zionist.”
This completely contradicted the Iranian Supreme Court, which declared last year that Nadarkhani was “convicted of turning his back on Islam… at the age of 19.”
Rezvani also confirmed that Nadarkhani’s execution is not imminent nor is it final.
Nadarkhani's attorney told Agence France Presse that this is the first time his client has been charged with crimes related to state security. It is also the first time that any senior Iranian official has commented on the case.
“On the apostasy [charge], that is exactly what we were told in front of the court, said Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.
However, there was no mention of security offences during the trial. These new accusations should be examined by the courts.
Nonetheless, Dadkhah said on Wednesday he thought Nadarkhani could still be set free.
The Iranian court, which charged him with apostasy, offered to lift the death sentence if he recanted his Christian faith (which he reportedly refused to do).
Our last court session was held on Wednesday. Mr. Nadarkhani did not repent and the last court verdict said he would face a death sentence if he did not, Dadkhah said.
However, we offered our explanations and I think the court was convinced. I am optimistic there is a 95 percent chance he will be released in the final ruling, which I expect by the end of next week.”
The case of Nadarkhani, now 32, has prompted fury from across the globe, including condemnation from the U.S.