It appears that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will avoid the hangman in Iran for the time being.
Nadarkhani, once the leader of a 400-person congregation in Rasht, was previously convicted of apostasy -- the crime of abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity -- but Iran now claims that the death penalty reports that circulated around the world last week were unsubstantiated.
“Youssef Nadar-Khani [sic] has been charged with a crime and is in a prison based on an arrest warrant issued against him,” Gilan Province Judiciary Chief Mohammad-Javad Heshmati said on Wednesday, according to Iran state news agency Press TV.
“There has been no execution order. No conviction at all has been issued yet and it is up to the court to finally decide the verdict after studying his case,” he added.
Since news of Nadarkhani's looming execution spread, Iran has been loudly decrying the pastor as a convicted rapist and extortionist, and the Fars News Agency said over the weekend that Nadarkhani was to be executed for Zionism and threats to national security.
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“This individual is guilty and his crime is not attempting to convert others to Christianity, rather his crimes are of a security nature,” Ali Rezvani, Deputy Governor of Gilan Province, stated.
But Nadarkhani was first arrested in 2009 and until Monday, the government had only mentioned the apostasy charge for years, at least according to the court documents that have been released.
It is believed that in 2010, Iran's Supreme Court upheld the death by hanging sentence, and the filing signed by judges Morteza Fazel and Azizoallah Razaghi mentions the religious charges against Nadarkhani and nothing more.
Mr. Youcef Nadarkhani, son of Byrom, 32 years old, married, born in Rasht in the state of Gilan, is convicted of turning his back on Islam, the greatest religion the prophesy of Mohammad at the age of 19, the document states.
He has often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity. He has been accused of breaking Islamic Law that from puberty (15 years according to Islamic law) until the age of 19 the year 1996, he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home.
During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim. During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir–olvasileh.
Nonetheless, Iran has accused Western media of manipulating the facts surrounding the case in order to wage an anti-Iran publicity campaign.
Iran has firmly refuted Western allegations of violating human rights, insisting that Nadar-Khani has a history of committing violent crimes and that he has never received a death penalty for his religious preference, Press TV asserted.
If Nadarkhani were indeed guilty of rape and of Zionism, which could be the treasonous crime of spying for Israel, the death penalty would not be off the table. Both convictions are subject to capital punishment in Iran, and the death penalty is mandatory in rape cases unless the victim forgives the rapist.
Apostasy is not officially in Iran's penal code, but is still punishable by death under official fatwas and religious texts.
The disappearance of the death penalty may be an indication that Iran, wary of more poor press, bowed to international pressure. Last week, a number of world leaders condemned the execution -- The White House, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Bishop of Canterbury and the European Union all issued harsh statements to Iran.