GENEVA

International pressure is mounting on Iranian courts to acquit a Christian pastor sentenced to death last year for apostasy. The Supreme Court of Qom overturned the sentence but still ruled if it was proven he was a Muslim upon his conversion and does not repent his conversion, the execution may be carried out.

Yousef Nadarkhani, a 33 year-old minister of the Church of Iran and pastor of a 400-member congregation in the city of Rasht, was sentenced to death last November by a state court for apostasy (abandonment of a religion) and evangelizing Muslims.

Following an appeal, the court, according to an unofficial translation provided by the Washington DC-based American Center for Law and Justice, determined that “if it can be proved that [Yousef] was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented (of his conversion), the execution will be carried out.”

Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. Ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, told ENInews, “we are aware of reports that Mr. Nadarkhani’s sentence would be annulled on the condition that he recant his Christian faith.  While we would welcome the sparing of his life, such coercion shows the Iranian government’s continuing repression of religious freedom.”

Cook also pointed out the U.S. administration has repeatedly called on the government of Iran to respect international law and basic human dignity and to allow its citizens the right to follow the dictates of their conscience.

Nadarkhani’s death sentence, she said, “is just the latest example of how Iran’s leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, while violating the basic human rights of freedom of religion and expression of its citizens.”

If the state court, as instructed by the June 12 verdict of  the Supreme Court, determines after  further investigation, that between ages 15 and 19, (the age he converted) Nadarkhani was a Muslim, then he must either recant his faith or  the execution will be carried out, the Center’s International Legal director, Tiffany Barrans, told ENInews.

Nadarkhani reportedly said during his trial last year that before he was 19, “he did not have any religion,” but that his interrogators had forced him to admit that he was born to Muslim parents and converted to Christianity, U.N. documents reveal.

Similarly, Andrew Johnston, advocacy director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the organization was deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling which as, as he put it, “simply handed Pastor Nadarkhani’s case back to the court that found him guilty in the first place. It is now imperative that governments “apply pressure on Iran,” he said, to ensure his full acquittal.

Moreover, in May Christof Heyns, the U.N. independent expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, reported that he had emphasized to the government of Iran that carrying out the execution of Nadarkhani would be incompatible with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 1975.

These norms stipulate that in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, capital punishment may be imposed only for the most serious crimes, he noted.