Apostasy is known as the total abandonment of one's religion. In America, such an act is far from illegal, as many individuals switch denominations -- even religions -- with ease.
But, in Iran, a nation known for its human rights violations, such apostasy is illegal and punishable by death. This is exactly what Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani quickly learned when Iranian authorities detained him because of his Christian beliefs.
Nadarkhani was first arrested in October 2009. The Christian Post reports that the pastor converted from Islam to Christianity when he was a teenager:
The now 32-year-old evangelical house church pastor was first arrested for protesting against Christian children being forced to participate in Muslim religious education in school. Then last year he was sentenced to death for apostasy.
But, just days after human rights activists claimed that Iran's Supreme Court was planning to uphold the death penalty, it is being reported that the high court has actually overturned the ruling.
While this is certainly a victory for Nadarkhani, he isn't out of the woods yet. The Supreme Court has allegedly sent the ruling back to the pastor's hometown court and has demanded that he "repent." Under Islamic law, repenting would involve the pastor apologizing and denouncing his conversion to Christianity.
There is no word yet on what will happen next. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, Nadarkhani's lawyer, says he needs to travel to read the ruling, as he has only heard it via phone.
In showcasing the full scope of Iran's anti-Christian sentiment, Dadkhah is also facing serious charges. AFP has more:
Dadkhah said he himself was sentenced on Sunday by a Tehran court to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practicing 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.
It will be intriguing to see how this case is handled. If Nadarkhani refuses to apologize, there is no telling how the story will end. It is quite possible that the Supreme Court could reverse course once more.