An Iranian court is likely to delay its verdict in a case concerning Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is facing death penalty for converting to Christianity, to allow authorities to further coerce him to convert to Islam as he remains in jail.
The evangelical pastor’s lawyer has learned that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, has asked the presiding judge over the trial, Ghazi Kashani, to delay the pending judgment and keep him in prison for another year, Present Truth Ministries said in a statement Thursday.
Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old house church leader from the Church of Iran denomination, was convicted of apostasy last year and was sentenced to death by hanging. However, the Supreme Court of Iran asked for the retrial of his case by a lower court in the city of Rasht in northern Gilan Province.
The deliberate delay is meant to let the case “slip away from international attention” even as the authorities continue to “use whatever means necessary to cause him to convert to Islam,” said Jason DeMars, the founder of the ministry that was first to report on the pastor’s arrest two years ago.
It was earlier learnt that the court in Rasht had asked Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the highest ranking political and religious authority in Shi’a-majority Iran, to rule on whether the pastor should be put to death.
The pastor was arrested in October 2009 from Rasht for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools for his children, Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7, and after he sought to register his church. Authorities, however, later changed the charges to apostasy. He has been lodged in a prison in Lakan, about seven miles south of Rasht, since then.