Conflicting information surfaces over Iranian apostasy case

By July 6, 2011

Iran (MNN) — An appeal by an Iranian
pastor convicted of apostasy has failed.

to Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs, "The initial reports were that
the Supreme Court had upheld the conviction against him, they had upheld the
death sentence, and he would be executed."

conflicting information has just reached VOM which sheds a whole new light on
the case. Nettleton says their partners are working hard to confirm this
information. "The reports over the last 24 hours are that, in fact, the Supreme
Court did not uphold the death penalty. They sent the case back to the local
court in his area where he would have the opportunity to recant, and if he did
that, then the death sentence would go away."

The background: in
2009, Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani, a leader
in the Full Gospel "Church of Iran" network, was arrested and
imprisoned after protesting a decision by the government requiring that his son
study the Qur'an.

He was
charged with apostasy, which carries a death sentence under the revised penal
code. Still, the fulfillment of the sentence would be rare indeed. "In
the last 20 years, no Christian has been executed by the state for apostasy. So,
it's rare that we have a verdict and that
the sentence is actually carried out."

The 11th
Circuit Criminal Court of Appeals for the Gilan Province upheld Pastor Youcef's
death sentence and conviction for apostasy, but the sentence was delayed. "It does seem that the Iranian government
is aware that this case is being watched by the rest of the world," notes
Nettleton. He goes on to say that "it does seem that they're at least hearing
the protests from people around the world about putting a Christian man to
death simply because he's not a Muslim anymore."

Whether it's pressure internally or
externally, the latest information on the case buys Nardarkhani some time. "They've sent it back to the lower
court. They are supposed to get him to recant his faith and return to Islam. If
he doesn't, our understanding is that he still could face the death penalty."

According to VOM, he
is among several others in his
church (including his wife) who have been arrested by Iranian officials because
of faith in Christ. It is also because
of cases like these that open more doors. The apostasy death penalty was intended to quell the rise of interest in
Christianity. However, "When their government fails or when there is
injustice, they see that as the failure of Islam. They are very open to other
messages, including the message of the Gospel of Jesus."

As a result, "The Christians of Iran are incredibly bold in
their witness, and the people of Iran are incredibly hungry for the Gospel of
Jesus Christ." Ask
God to equip Pastor Youcef to stand firm in his faith, and pray that he will sense
the love and support of all those praying for him and working on his behalf. Pray, too, that the Iranian authorities
involved will be convicted of their injustice and overturn the case.

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