Iran backs off, pastor still risks death
UPDATE (28 Feb., 2012) -- The Iranian government has backed down in the face of withering criticism, claiming that international media have the story wrong and that Youcef Nadarkhani is not facing an imminent demise, according to Fox News.
Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has been monitoring the case through sources inside Iran. He received confirmation that as of Sunday (Feb. 26) Pastor Youcef was still alive. Sekulow believes that the international backlash against the execution order was the key.
"[The] fact is that Pastor Youcef is still alive because of the media attention and global support...I call it 'media advocacy' - advocating for the release of this husband and father of two through the media," Sekulow wrote on the ACLJ website.
"The media understands what is happening here," Sekulow added. "This is a human rights case. Not a political issue. And, Iran is in violation of international law."
In this latest face-saving move, Iran not only claimed there is no execution order, the government has once again asserted that Nadarkhani is not accused of apostacy. Instead, government-operated Press TV now insists that Nadarkhani is being held on charges of rape and unspecified "other crimes".
The government took a similar tack in October, 2011, when international pressure was also extraordinarily high.
Nadarkhani's lawyers, meanwhile, argue the execution order remains in effect, Fox News reported.
UPDATE (24 Feb., 2012) -- The tragic fate of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani might now be sealed, after an Iranian court reaffirmed his death sentence for the crime of apostasy and issued an execution order, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
"Pastor Youcef’s situation – an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian – has not been this dire since we first brought his case to [our readers'] attention last year," said the ACLJ statement.
Nadarkhani's case has drawn the attention of international human rights and religious activists, though the outcry has not swayed authorities inside Iran, who ordered that Nadarkhani be hung for his crimes, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Pastor Youcef's appeal options are not yet clear, since Iran's legal system is so unusual, the ACLJ said. If the execution order is fulfilled, it will be Iran's first documented execution for apostacy in 20 years, the International Business Times reports.
"We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held in public – most executions in Iran are conducted in secret," the ACLJ report stated.