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Iran backs off, pastor still risks death

Iran | Religious Freedom

ALCJ confirmed Thursday morning, however, that despite rays of hope, the death sentence still stands.  Even if the death sentence is somehow overturned, it is unlikely Nadarkhani would go free because Iranian officials seem set on shifting the scope of Nadarkhani's crime.

AFP is reporting that Gholam-Ali Rezvani, deputy governor general of the northern province of Gilan, now claims Nadarkhani is a Zionist and terrorist.  The crime worthy of death is not apostasy, Rezvani said, but undisclosed "security crimes".

No one in Iran's system may be executed for their religion, Rezvani told FARS.  But he went on to say that Nadarkhani should still face the death penalty for his traitorous Zionism.

The US president issued a statement condeming the conviction and the demand that Nadarkhani recant his chosen faith of Christianity.

"That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations," the statement said.

"A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens."

Paul Marshall, a TMP board member and Hudson Institute expert on religious freedom, tells NRO Online, "My best guess is that they’ll avoid death penalty because of international opprobrium...but will go for a heavy sentence that will be less stark than death. From their view, that deflects much of the criticism."

"We need to continue pushing," Marshall urged.

[TMP editor Richard Potts contributed to this report.]

UPDATE (27 Sept) -- Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has refused to recant his Christian faith during two court hearings held in Rasht, Gilan Province, on 25 and 26 September, and as a result faces the prospect of imminent execution.

Sources close to Christian Solidarity Worldwide indicate that another demand to recant will take place at sessions scheduled for 28 September.  If Nadarhkani continues to refuse, he will be executed thereafter.

Also other sources confirm to TMP that Nadarkhani was given 72 hours on Monday to repent for converting to Christianity, or he would face the sentence for apostates from Islam.

ORIGINAL STORY (20 Sept) -- Over the last two years, international mainstream media and human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, and International Federation for Human Rights have given limited - if any - attention to the troubling case of an imprisoned 34-year-old Iranian pastor from Rasht.

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