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Holy See asks Iran to spare life of Christian pastor

Youcef Nadarkhani was given a death sentence for converting to Christianity

The Holy See has “expressed its concern” to Iran over the death sentence given to a Christian pastor for his conversion from Islam, a spokesman for the English and Welsh bishops has said.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 33, has been given fresh hope after his case was referred back to the country’s lower court following a ruling that the conviction was based on “insufficient investigations”.

The Protestant pastor was arrested in the northern city of Rasht in 2009 on charges of refusing to reconvert to Islam, and sentenced to death. He was due to die for his faith last week.

But following criticism from governments, human rights groups and Christian leaders, the regime claimed that he had been condemned not for apostasy but for “being a Zionist and a traitor, who had committed security-related crimes”.

In London crossbench peer David Alton raised the issue in the House of Lords and with the British Government.

He told The Catholic Herald: “It is welcome news that the Iranian court has reportedly referred the case to Iran’s supreme leader, a move which almost certainly indicates that Iran is aware of the immense international indignation which this case has aroused. In seeking the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the Islamic republic’s spiritual leader and highest authority – the world will be able to judge whether Iran’s leadership has any concept of religious freedom or elementary justice.

“Youcef Nadarkhani’s only crime has been to become a Christian. In the face of a death sentence, his subsequent courage in refusing to renounce Christianity reveals amazing bravery on his part and cruel barbarity on theirs.”

A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “We are concerned at the reports from Iran about the death sentence for Youcef Nadarkhani. The Holy See has expressed its concern through diplomatic channels and we remain hopeful that the Courts will revoke the death penalty over the coming days. Meanwhile, our prayers are with him and his family.”