Lawyer: Appeals court may acquit Iranian pastor

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The U.S. called for the release of a pastor sentenced to death in Iran for apostasy while his lawyer said Thursday he is hopeful an appeals court will acquit his client.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said 32-year-old Yusuf Naderkhani, who converted to Christianity when he was 19, has done nothing more than stay devoted to his faith.

He said Iran's attempt to force him to renounce the faith "crosses all bounds of decency" and breaches Iran's international obligations.

Meanwhile, Germany summoned Iran's top diplomat in Berlin to protest the planned execution. Angela Merkel's office said Germany "urges Iran to lift the death sentence against pastor Yusuf Naderkhani," and said "an execution would be inhuman and a gross violation of human rights."

Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told The Associated Press on Thursday he believes in a "95 percent chance" of acquittal for Naderkhani.

He said neither Iranian law nor clerics have ever stipulated the death penalty as punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity.

After converting, Naderkhani became a pastor in the northern Iranian city of Rasht. He was convicted of apostasy in 2010 and remains in prison in Rasht.

Dadkhah said his client has appeared before the appeals court over the past four days and expects a ruling by the end of next week.

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