Iran’s supreme court said Tuesday it would again examine any appeal by an Iranian pastor who is currently awaiting a verdict in his retrial for apostasy ─ a crime which could be punished with a death sentence.
“If there is an appeal and the case is returned to the supreme court, the case will be reviewed,” it said in a statement quoted by the ISNA news agency.
The top court had already overturned on appeal a lower court’s order that the 32-year-old pastor, Yusef Nadarkhani, be executed for converting to Christianity 13 years ago.
The retrial by the original court was expected to result in a verdict any time from last weekend.
But Nadarkhani’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, told AFP Monday that the case was being referred to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his “opinion” ─ an unusual move that could signal a delay in the verdict.
In its statement, the supreme court noted it had quashed the initial conviction and sentencing “due to a technicality in the investigation.”
The retrial it had ordered the original court to undertake was to be made “after the removal of the said technicalities.”
Nadarkhani, pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran, was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death under Islamic sharia law for converting to Christianity when he was 19.
After his conviction was upheld by an appeals court in Gilan province in September 2010, Nadarkhani turned to the supreme court.
In July, the supreme court overturned the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in his hometown of Rasht, in Gilan province. His retrial took place at the end of September.
Several Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and France, have condemned the death sentence against Nadarkhani and called for his release.
On September 30, Gilan’s deputy governor general said Nadarkhani should not face the death penalty for apostasy, but also referred for the first time to “security crimes” allegedly committed by the pastor whom he labelled a “Zionist”.
But the pastor’s lawyer said the only charge stated in the case was related to apostasy.