By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)– Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faced tense hours early Saturday, October 1, after a government official said he should be executed for being a traitorous "Zionist" and committing "security crimes."
Gholam-Ali Rezvani, deputy governor general of the northern province of Gilan, where the pastor's case is being reheard, denied to government linked Fars News Agency (FNA) that Nadarkhani faces execution for "apostasy", or abandoning Islam.
"The issue of crime and of capital punishment of this individual is not a question of faith or religion," he claimed, despite confirmation from several written court verdicts.
Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old married father with two children, was "a Zionist, a traitor and had committed security crimes," Rezvani added.
In reactions the pastor's lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, said this was the first time authorities had cited "security offenses" against his client. "On the apostasy, that is exactly what we were told in front of the court," he explained.
"However, there was no mention of security offenses during the trial. These new accusations should be examined by the courts."
FNA also reported that the list of charges included several violent crimes, such as "repeated rape and extortion," although they were never mentioned in court documents, Worthy News monitored.
Yet, Dadkhah said he was "95 percent" certain that his client would be acquitted, but sources close to the case warned "Iran's regime" may hang the pastor anyway.
Extending the case to not previously mentioned crimes would make it easier for Iran to execute the pastor on other charges then "apostasy" for which he had been tried, according to an analysis of Worthy News, based on several reports.
The move comes amid Western condemnation over the feared execution on "apostasy" charges, and defense arguments that "Iran's constitution does not allow" the death sentence for abandoning Islam.
Iranian Christians have expressed concerns the government wants to set an example with a possible death sentence, amid a reported crackdown on especially Christian converts in the strict Islamic nation.
Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity at the age of 19, was found guilty of "apostasy" and sentenced to death in September 2010 by the court in Rasht. Iran's Supreme Court did not overturn the ruling but instead asked the Rasht court to "re-examine" the case.
A verdict in the reheard trial was expected as early as Sunday, October 2, Worthy News learned.
Several countries have condemned the death sentence against Nadarkhani and called for his release, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Netherlands and Poland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
In the United States, the influential American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) urged Christians to sign a petition asking U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pressure Iran not to execute the pastor.
"We cannot allow this atrocity to be carried out. Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces imminent execution in Iran for his Christian faith," the petition says.
Well-known Reverend Patrick Mahoney, director of the U.S.-based Christian Defense Coalition pressure group, said he would begin "a fast/hunger strike" on Saturday, October 1, "to pray and stand in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani."