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Iran’s secretive supreme court has reportedly overturned a death sentence handed down to an evangelical pastor for leaving Islam, surprising trial observers who were earlier informed about an execution ruling.

However concerns remained Monday, July 4, about the future of 33-year-old Yousef Nadarkhani, as he remained under pressure to recant his faith in Christ, his lawyer and Christians said.

“The supreme court has annulled the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in [his hometown] Rasht, asking the accused to repent,” said his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, in a statement to French news agency AFP.

The verdicts can be overturned if the convicted person “repents” and “renounces” his conversion, experts say.   Evangelicals argue it’s impossible to renounce their faith as the Bible teaches they have become “born again” and a “new creation” after they “accepted” Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

Even “renouncing” Christ would therefore not change their Christian identity, they claim.

Pastor Nadarkhani wrote recently to his fellow believers not to fear persecution in the strict Islamic nation, saying Jesus Christ gives him strength. “As we’ve heard He has said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

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