The Iranian Judiciary reportedly ordered the Rasht court last week to postpone a verdict in the apostasy trial of Christian Pastor and convert Youcef Nadarkhani.

The Judiciary’s order came after Nadarkhani’s case provoked international outcry. Human rights groups and several foreign governments have criticized Iranian authorities for their blatant violation of religious freedom and potential abuse of the death penalty.

Nadarkhani’s charge is apostasy, which in Iran means leaving Islam for another religion. However, apostasy is not a crime under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code and the various judges reviewing the case have had to base their rulings on theological sources. These sources consider apostasy a capital crime.

Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that he learned of the judiciary’s delay but has not received official confirmation. He added that he doubts the final sentence will be death, saying, “I’m pretty sure we’ve moved past execution … it will likely be a light prison sentence … I hope we hear something in six months.”

Associates of Nadarkhani told the Campaign the delay was allegedly ordered for a year to give him time to repent.

Dadkhah noted that there is no basis in the law for such a delay, and that he believed “we’ve moved past the issue of repentance … they’re not going to ask him to repent [again].”

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In June 2011, the Supreme Court of Qom Province ordered the latest trial, which lasted from 25 to 28 September 2011, in response to an appeal. The Supreme Court ordered the Rasht criminal court to determine whether or not Nadarkhani was a Muslim after the age of maturity (i.e. age 15). If Nadarkhani, as he has maintained throughout his trial, was found to never have been Muslim after the age of maturity, the court was to give him the option to repent and renounce his Christianity. If he repents then he will not be executed and will presumably be released. However, according to the Supreme Court, if does not repent he should be sentenced to death.

In September 2011, Dadkhah told the Campaign that: “[Nadarkhani] was brought to court to repent for three days. He denied repentance on all three days. I said in my last defense that his execution is not an appropriate and legal action from the viewpoint of Sharia Law, our own laws, and international laws, and I believe that the court accepted my opinion.” Dadkhah stressed that he believes there will be no death sentence.

Nadarkhani has reportedly been repeatedly pressured by judicial and intelligence authorities to renounce Christianity and return to Islam since his arrest in October 2009.

According to Nadarkhani’s family members and associates, he has maintained that he has never acted against Islam and will not renounce his faith. “Pastor Youcef has not budged,” said a close associate of his from Rasht.

Youcef Nadarkhani is a 34-year old pastor, with a wife and two young children, who was born to Muslim parents. He converted to Christianity at the age of 19. Before his arrest in October 2009, Nadarkhani led a congregation of about 400 Christians in Rasht. The congregation is part of a nationwide evangelical group called the Church of Iran, many of whose members have been arrested and prosecuted since 2009.

For more information about Mr. Nadarkhani, please see below:

After Trial on Apostasy Charge, Christian Pastor Nadarkhani Accused of Rape and Extortion

Christian Pastor’s Repentance Required for Death Sentence Overturn, Says Lawyer