ISTANBUL (BP)--A pastor in Iran found guilty of leaving Islam is awaiting the outcome of a judicial investigation into his spiritual background to see if he will be executed or forced to become a Muslim, according to Christian groups with ties in Iran.
The court-ordered investigation will take place sometime this fall to determine whether Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, 34, was a Muslim as a teenager before he became a Christian at 19.
On Sept. 22, 2010, a regional court sentenced Nadarkhani, who leads a 400-strong house church movement in Rasht, to death by hanging for "convert[ing] to Christianity" and "encourag[ing] other Muslims to convert to Christianity." Nadarkhani's lawyer appealed the verdict to the Iranian Supreme Court, in part because the pastor said he had never actually been a Muslim and therefore could not be found guilty of abandoning the religion.
The court issued a written response to the appeal on June 12, upholding the death penalty but ordering the investigation.
The court's ruling, which took a month to reach Christian and human rights groups outside of Iran, said that according to Islamic Republic Criminal Law, the matter must be "further investigated to prove that from puberty (15 years) to 19 he was not Muslim by his acquaintances, relatives, local elders, and Muslims he frequented. He must repent [of] his Christian faith if this is the case. No research has been done to prove this; if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out."