By PARISA HAFEZI | REUTERS
TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme court sent back the case of a Christian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy to the lower court that tried him, saying there had been insufficient investigation before the original trial, students news agency ISNA said on Tuesday.
Yousof Nadarkhani, 33, was arrested and sentenced to death in the northern city of Rasht in 2009. An appeals court upheld his sentence last year after he refused to reconvert to Islam, his lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Reuters last week.
“The Supreme Court has returned the case of Nadarkhani to the lower court that originally issued the death sentence … The decision was made due to insufficient investigations,” ISNA quoted a statement issued by the judiciary.
“The court will issue a new verdict … if Nadarkhani appeals the verdict then the case will be sent again to the Supreme Court,” the statement said.
Iran’s judiciary officials were not available to comment.
The United States and Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Church, have called on Iran to spare Nadarkhani’s life. Iranian leaders reject claims by Western human rights groups that the Islamic Republic pressures religious minorities.
Apostasy refers to the abandonment or renunciation of a person’s religious faith or moral allegiance.
International Human Rights Watch quoted Dadkhah as saying that “Nadarkhani converted to Christianity at the age of 19, and that prior to that he did not consider himself a Muslim or an adherent of any religion.”
Nadarkhani, a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran and a father of two, had been given three chances to recant by the appeals court, his lawyer Dadkhah said.
The lawyer said Nadarkhani’s sentence was based on fatwas issued by a senior cleric, now dead, but at least three others had challenged the ruling.
Iranian media quoted a local official in the northern province of Gilan, where Nadarkhani is in jail, as saying he had been sentenced to death not for apostasy, but for other crimes like “being a Zionist and a traitor, who had committed security-related crimes.”
Iran refuses to recognize Israel and calls it “the Zionist regime.”
Link to ArabNews.com story here