Worshipers hold a cross
Worshipers hold a cross in eastern Germany on September 23. The lawyer for Yusef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor facing the death sentence for converting from Islam, told AFP on Thursday he is "optimistic" that the final verdict could see his client set free. © John Macdougall - AFP/File
Worshipers hold a cross
AFP
Last updated: September 29, 2011

Lawyer hopes Iran death term pastor will be freed

The lawyer for Yusef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor facing the death sentence for converting from Islam, told AFP on Thursday he is "optimistic" that the final verdict could see his client set free.

"Our last court session was held on Wednesday. Mr Nadarkhani did not repent and the last court verdict said he would face a death sentence if he did not," Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said.

"However, we offered our explanations and I think the court was convinced. I am optimistic there is a 95 percent chance he will be released in the final ruling, which I expect by the end of next week," Dadkhah added.

In July, Nadarkhani's lawyer told AFP the supreme court had overturned the death sentence handed down in September 2010 and had sent the case back to the court in his hometown of Rasht.

Nadarkhani, now 32, converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19 and became pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.

He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy under Islamic sharia law, which however allows for such verdicts to be overturned if the convicted person "repents" and renounces his conversion.

After his conviction was upheld by an appeals court in Gilan province in September 2010, Nadarkhani turned to the supreme court. His wife, who was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, was released on appeal.

The case has drawn criticism from several Western countries.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he "deplored" reports that Iran was about to execute the pastor for refusing to return to Islam.

His comments followed similar remarks by US House Speaker John Boehner, who urged Iran to spare Nadarkhani's life and grant him "unconditional release."

Dadkhah was himself sentenced by a Tehran court in July to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practising law or teaching at university for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime."

The lawyer said he had been criticised for having cooperated with the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, an organisation founded by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well as for giving interviews to foreign radio stations.

He has appealed his case and is awaiting a verdict.

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