BERLIN: Germany’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned Iran’s ambassador to demand the release of an Iranian Christian pastor, sentenced to death, whose execution Berlin fears is imminent.
“At the request of (Foreign) Minister (Guido) Westerwelle, the Iranian ambassador was summoned yesterday (Friday) to the foreign ministry for the German government to convey its deep concern over the fate of Christian pastor Yusuf Nadarkhani and to demand his immediate release,” a spokeswoman said.
“According to several independent reports, (Nadarkhani) is to be executed soon. Instructions to that effect have been sent by the Iranian judiciary authorities to the central prison in Rasht,” where he is being held, she said.
In Tehran, state news agency IRNA reported that the Iranian envoy in Berlin had denied that a verdict had been reached against Nadarkhani.
“So far, there has been no verdict in Iran against someone who changes his religion. Any verdict by the court will be announced officially,” said Alireza Sheikh Attar, denouncing a “baseless campaign” against Iran.
And Nakdarkhani’s lawyer said there was “nothing new” in the case.
“There is nothing new. We are still awaiting an answer to the letter sent by the court to the supreme leader for his opinion,” Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told AFP, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The letter was sent by the court to the leader in early February and we do not know when it will be answered,” Dadkhah added.
Only then will the court issue a verdict, which the convicted person may appeal.
Nadarkhani, 34, became a Christian at the age of 19 and is pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.
He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy for abandoning his Muslim faith.
Islamic sharia law allows for such verdicts to be overturned if the convicted person “repents” and renounces his conversion, which Nadarkhani has refused to do.
Nadarkhani’s conviction was upheld by an appeals court in September 2010, but overturned by Tehran’s Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the lower court in his hometown of Rasht.
Its vice governor, who is responsible for security and political affairs in the province, has since said Nadarkhani’s religious beliefs were not at issue but charged that he is “a Zionist, a traitor and has committed security crimes.”
Human rights leaders fear that he can be executed at any time.
Several other Western countries including the United States, Britain, France and Poland have condemned the sentence and called for his release.