A pastor in Iran found guilty of leaving Islam is awaiting the outcome of a judicial investigation into his spiritual background to see if he will be executed or forced to become a Muslim, according to Christian groups with ties in Iran.

The court-ordered investigation will take place sometime this fall to determine whether Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, 34, was a Muslim as a teenager before he became a Christian at 19.

On Sept. 22, 2010, a regional court sentenced Nadarkhani, who leads a 400-strong house church movement in Rasht, to death by hanging for “convert[ing] to Christianity” and “encourag[ing] other Muslims to convert to Christianity.” Nadarkhani’s lawyer appealed the verdict to the Iranian Supreme Court, in part because the pastor said he had never actually been a Muslim and therefore could not be found guilty of abandoning the religion.

The court issued a written response to the appeal on June 12, upholding the death penalty but ordering the investigation.

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