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Nadarkhani with wife and kids

The final verdict for condemned Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is now in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, according to the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

“The ayatollah has ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” reported the Christian Messenger. “The move to involve him in the case could mean a delay in the final verdict.”

“The step to involve the most powerful leader in Iran demonstrates that Iran is feeling the pressure,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice — which has been heavily involved in international diplomacy to pressure Iran to relent on his death sentence. “Involving the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a case before a regional court is unusual. We can be certain if the lies spread by Iran were true — that Youcef was instead convicted of rape, extortion and Zionism — the court would not seek the advice of the Supreme Ayatollah.”

More than 125,000 people have signed petitions asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pressure Iran on behalf of the pastor, Sekulow said. Also, bipartisan support was growing in Congress with Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Heath Schuler, (D-N.C.), writing to Clinton urging her intervention.

The European Centre for Law and Justice, the ACLJ’s international affiliate which holds special consultative status with the United Nations, submitted a letter on Nadarkhani’s behalf, calling on the UN to secure the pastor’s immediate and unconditional release.

Nadarkhani, 32, was arrested in 2009 and charged with apostasy, an offense punishable by hanging. A lower court found that while he had never been Muslim, he was guilty of apostasy because he came from a Muslim family. The Iranian Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.