.- A Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization has clarified that the life of Iranian Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani remains in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
“The latest reports indicating that the Supreme Court has called for yet another retrial are misleading,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice on Oct. 12.
Sekulow explained that “the judicial system in Iran operates in a substantially different way than court systems Americans are familiar with.” He made his remarks after news outlets reported Oct. 11 that the case was being sent back to a lower court for re-evaluation.
He explained that the “retrial” being reported is most likely actually the trial that occurred Sept. 25 to 28. That trial took place in response to an order by the Supreme Court in June that required a lower appeals court to determine whether Pastor Nadarkhani was a Muslim at the age of majority, which is 15 years-old in Iran.
Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old pastor, was imprisoned in 2009 after complaining to local authorities about his son being required to read from the Koran at school. He faces execution for apostasy because he has refused to recant his Christian beliefs.
Although the appeals court determined that Nadarkhani had not been a Muslim during his adult life, it ruled that he had abandoned the faith of his ancestors and therefore must recant or die.
Iranian officials then requested an “opinion” on the case from the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, a move which Sekulow described as “something unusual and unlikely to have occurred without the growing condemnation and international media coverage of Pastor Nadarkhani’s trial.”
Sekulow called for a continued effort around the world to defend Nadarkhani’s life.
On Oct. 11, the American Center for Law and Justice hand-delivered a petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to increase pressure on Iranian officials.
The petition was signed by over 156,000 Americans and continues to receive more signatures daily.
“We cannot allow this atrocity to be carried out,” reads the petition.
“It is absolutely critical that you call for Iran to overturn Pastor Youcef’s death sentence and demand his full and unconditional release from prison.”
“As other world leaders denounce Iran’s condemning this man to death just for being a Christian, it is critical that America – the land of liberty – take a stand and pressure Iran to release Pastor Youcef.”
Sekulow encouraged Secretary Clinton to work with international leaders and groups including the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to prevent the pastor’s execution.
He noted that Secretary Clinton is scheduled to meet with the Swiss Embassy, which handles U.S. relations with Iran, on Oct. 12.
While the meeting was called to discuss the failed Iranian plot to attack the Israeli Embassy and other targets in Washington, D.C., Sekulow said it would also “provide the perfect opportunity to urge Iran to release Pastor Youcef.”
A bipartisan effort to help save Nadarkhani is also underway in Congress.
Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) drafted a letter to Secretary of State Clinton urging her to “use all the powers at your disposal” for “swift engagement with the international community to advocate for his release.”
The letter has gained the support of more than 50 members of Congress so far.
Uncertainty regarding reports about Nadarkhani’s case also arose earlier this month when Iranian state media said on Oct. 1 that the pastor was charged with rape, extortion and security-related crimes.
However, Sekulow observed at the time that the court documents do not mention any crime other than apostasy.
He noted that Iran has a disproportionately large number of executions for rape and suggested that Iranian officials routinely switch from an initial charge to a rape charge in cases that are attracting negative international attention.