Iran is denying the existence of the execution order on Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
Following years of trials, Nadarkhani was reportedly sentenced to death last week. But state news outlet Press TV denied the claim, citing an anonymous source that said a court is still investigating the case.
Iran’s Supreme Court has not yet handed down its final verdict in the case of the pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in order to allow authorities to further investigate the file and reach the best decision, the report said.
Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 on charges of apostasy. A Gilan province court determined that the pastor, who led a congregation of about 400 people from his home, had abandoned Islam as a teenager and should be sentenced to death. The case and its various appeals traveled to the Supreme Court, back down to the provincial courts and eventually to the ayatollahs
Along with the death sentence, Iran is also again denying the apostasy charge altogether, according to reports. In October, the Iranian regime claimed that Nadarkhani was being held for security-related crimes, including Zionism, which often means spying for Israel.
Despite denying the apostasy charge, Press TV did add that Nadarkhani has not even named the church where it is claimed he has received a degree authorizing him to perform religious duties and ceremonies in Christianity.
Additionally, the only court documents that have made it out of Iran have dealt with apostasy, with signed statements from Supreme Court judges clearly noting that Nadakhani was guilty of leaving Islam at the age of 19.
The one written verdict we have seen has been for apostasy, said Dr. Khataza Gondwe, the Africa and Middle East team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide. When other false charges were raised, it was an attempt to put a fig leaf over the situation.
The execution denial may be a positive sign for the pastor. The last time Iran made a statement on the Nadarkhani case it was to delay the execution. The announcement, which came in October, corresponded with a rise in international attention, including condemnations of the looming execution from the White House.
According to sources close to the situation, Nadarkhani was still alive as of Sunday. In Iran, once an execution order is given, a felon can be hanged in a matter of days.
We still believe that his execution has been ordered, but it is clear that renewed international pressure on Iran for Pastor Youcef’s release is having an impact, said Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
It is this immense pressure that continues to keep Pastor Youcef alive.
If the final execution order is given, it might not be known until after Nadarkhani is hanged. Iran's revolutionary court has been known to reveal the death notice after the fact, and it is not required for the execution date to be given in advance.
Nonetheless, Nadarkhani's lawyer may have one final chance to appeal if the latest death sentence was actually given.