U.S. condemns Iranian pastor's conviction
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani shown in an Iranian prison.
September 29th, 2011
06:58 AM ET

U.S. condemns Iranian pastor's conviction

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - The White House Thursday condemned the conviction of an Iranian pastor, who may be executed in Tehran for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert from Christianity to Islam.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani "has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for people," a White House spokesman said in a statement. "That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency and breaches Iran's own international obligations."

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory group appointed by the president and Congress to monitor religious freedom around the world, Wednesday expressed "deep concern" for Nadarkhani, the head of a network of Christian house churches in Iran.

After four days of an appeals trial for apostasy, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs, the commission said. Chairman Leonard Leo said the pastor "is being asked to recant a faith he has always had. Once again, the Iranian regime has demonstrated that it practices hypocritical barbarian practices."

While the trial is closed to the press, Leo said the commission collects information from sources in Iran and around the world.

The commission's statement also called the trial a sham and said Iran is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a party.

"A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens," the White House statement said. "We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."

Nadarkhani was first sentenced to death in November 2010, the commission said, and in order to avoid the death penalty, he is being asked to recant his beliefs and convert to Islam. Leo said an apostasy trial is rare in Iran; the last occurred in 1990.

Iran's claim stems from the pastor's Muslim parents. According to Leo, the court needed to verify if Nadarkhani had ever been a Muslim. In order to be given what Iran claims is the opportunity to recant his beliefs, Nadarkhani must have never been a Muslim before the age of 15, Leo said.

Because he was given the opportunity during the four-day trial, it is apparent that the Iranian court found he was never a Muslim and therefore Nadarkhani could have converted.

According to a source close to the situation within the Commission on International Religious Freedom, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, would have to sign off on the execution. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, the source said such cases in Iran are difficult because of the lack of transparency in leaders' decision-making.

The source also said that in the past, political prisoners have had their prison time and punishment reduced by the Iranian government. Though they did not say that was guaranteed in this situation, the source indicated it was a possibility.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a right-leaning organization founded by television evangelist Pat Robertson, reported Wednesday night that Nadarkhani's death sentence had been overturned, meaning that the pastor would be receiving a lesser punishment. They sourced the claim to someone in Iran.

Those reports could not be independently verified by CNN. The Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United Nations failed to comment on the ruling.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said the outcry from Christians in America has been loud and sustained.

"American Christians, like never before, are engaged in this," Sekulow said. "This is evidence that Christians in America over the past decade have done a better job engaging in the persecution issue."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Iran

soundoff (2,425 Responses)
  1. Blessed & Loved

    To everyone here,
    As the saying goes... you can disagree without being disagreeable.

    Chill out. Respect. 'Nough said.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  2. dillio1973

    Can we PLEASE stop sending spies over there... Let's find a better use for our money... And for the dumbed down American that think hiking and testifying about God in a war zone is normal, get a real life because your line of thinking is putting America in the poor house..

    September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      I'm guessing you didn't read the article which is par for the course for you anti religious types.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  3. Anchorite

    Maybe they should call Sean Penn or Hugo Chavez. The US gov't obviously is worthless in trying to help Americans abroad.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • leecherius

      They're just after money...the religious angle is a ruse.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • William

      Sean Penn is kind of like a traitor to his country and Chavez is a dictator who has done NOTHING for his country. Chavez's big buddy is Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. My wife (Nicaraguan) and I spend a lot of time in Nicaragua, and I can tell you that the biggest capitalist in the country is Ortega – he personally controls (with Chavez) all the major businesses in the country, like oil, PetroNica. They claim to be socialists working for the common people but really they are capitalist dictators. It is sad how the poor folks are duped by the handout of small amounts of free food.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • HA215

      Idiot. This guy is not American.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  4. whatsUpDoc

    Question to everyone supporting this guy (& rightly so). How many of you would discriminate against him if he was in the US and you had no clue as to what religion he was??? I'm just wondering out aloud. I think the liberals would be more accepting while the Bible thumpers supporting this guy on this forum would probably tell him to 'Go Home'. This coming from a liberal Christian...

    September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      What a stupid comment.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  5. Demosthenes

    He deserves it.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Locke

      You are an ass.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  6. Chris

    Thought that was Adam Sandler at first glance.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  7. leecherius

    Yet ANOTHER opportunity for extortion....what will the price be this time Iran?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  8. Justice786

    The Qur'an says in Chapter 2, verse 256, "Let there be no compulsion in religion", and Islam NEVER enjoins Muslims to convert anybody by force either in the Qur'an or the Hadith. Often verses are cited out of context and misrepresented. The Prophet Muhammad never forced anyone to embrace Islam by force during his lifetime. Contrary to what Islamophobes would like the world to believe, no apostates was ever killed during the lifetime of the Prophet simply for being an apostate. Hence, Iran is absolutely wrong if it it trying to force this man to recant his faith, and if it puts to death as a result. There is an ocean of difference between Islam and how some Muslims put it into practice

    September 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Xchange

      Iran is to Islam as Hitler was to Christianity

      September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      Iran, they will do anything to get attention...poor little children...now go and be quiet

      September 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • HA215

      Clearly, Justice, you live in the USA. The ONLY place in the world where Muslims think like you.
      For the rest of the world, the numerous other places where apostacy is punishable by death is taken literally – though even more important are the passages to 'tolerate' those of other religions – but the Context is ALWAYS to subjugate them under the Muslims with an end goal to subjugate the world to Islamic rule.

      You want a moderate Muslim in terms of the world? See Pakistan. Turn that one over in your tummy for a while.
      USA Muslims are like Unitarian Christians. Wiser and more tolerant and realistic – but an incredibly small minority that has absolutely no influence over the mainstream religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  9. ruraloice

    This is why no government or political party should be based on a specific religion. One of the premises of separation of church and state is to prevent this type of result. Think if a political party won a majority of congress (both house and senate) and the presidency and would not accept any other religious sect or beliefs other than its own. I know this sounds pretty crazy, but I am sure the consequences could not be good for the country. Separation, but not "rejection" of religion from governmental decisions and policies is very important, and it doesn't mean one rejects God or their beliefs, even if they are an elected representative. This, of course, is just MHO.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • IKanThink

      It's not crazy, because the Dominionists, however fringe they are, do want to install Christianity into our government and make this a "Christian Nation." Of course, as you said, which sect of Christianity? What about citizens of other or no religious beliefs. Yet every time FFRF or the ACLU acts on a violation of the separation of church and state, the Christians cry "persecution" even with a church on every corner to which they can go any day of the week, pray at home, in the street, put fish plaques on their cars, whatever. They choose to be blind as to how this law protects them as well.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  10. RightSaidFred

    @ Truth You want truth... Any historian will tell you the real reason for the Christian Crusades.

    Europe in the 1100's was awash in hundreds of separate fiefdoms, each with it's own interests and needs. Since there was no real way of raising money to further their fortunes (no currency-no industry) the lords/landowners robbed and plundered their neighbors lands to obtain wealth. This plunder and revenge plunder went on for hundreds of years until Pope Urban II rather cleverly came up with a strategy to stop the warring that was threatening the Catholic Church’s very stability.

    The good pope decided that since all those overlords were armed to the teeth with weaponry, constantly on a war footing and, not inconsequentially, all "Christians" he had them direct their ire to the "Infidels" in Jerusalem in the form of the Christian Crusades. “Free the Holy City” was the new battle cry. Off to the east went the Christian warriors. The rest is history.

    So, there in a nutshell, there you have the origins for the crusades against the Arab world.

    As a little sidelight, at that point in history Europe was still in the troughs of the Dark/Middle ages. The Islamic/mid-eastern countries were infinitely more advanced in trade, science, mathematics and overall quality of life. Through interaction with the mid east during those long years of the Crusade’s, traders bought back with them the knowledge that eventually took the continent of Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance era.

    For "A religion that never had anything going for it" it did well in bringing Euope into the modern era, sir.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • leecherius

      Then along comes this guy Mohammed and time stands still in the mideast forever after.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • HA215

      You're correct RightSaid – but I'd add that if neither Jesus, nor Muhammed, nor Abraham ever came along there would not have been a dark ages. Michelangelo probably would have LITERALLY put us on the Moon in 1525.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • kohanim

      They might have been advanced in the sciences, mathematics and so on back then, but why are they so backward now?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Wilbur TO Sgt J

      Well nice try but the majority of scholars have attested to the fact the first crusade was in direct response to 500 years of Jihad in which two thirds of the known Christian world was conqured by Islam. One only needs to look at writings of Muslims of the time and the shear number of wars they were engaged in at the time to validate this position. After all what were the Muslims doing in Spain, the Balkans, and Italy with their armies?

      As for the Islam saving Europe during the dark ages what a laugher. Another feeble attempt of "puffery" trying to sugar coat Islam for Western consumption. The fact remains the Islamic Golden Age occured during the peak of Muslim conquest which brought a huge number of non Muslims, Dhimmis, into the fold. Just like today with all the indetured workers making the Gulf states run these Dhimmis of yore artificially propped up the Islamic world. These Dhimmis were the very ones who translated the bulk of Greco Roman knowledge into Arabic which eventually found its way back to Europe. Then when the Dhimmis started to flee or convert to escape persecution also happened to be the time the Islamic world started to decline. However the biggest factor in the decline was Islam's rejection of critical thought (see Al Ghazzalis work the Incoherence of the Philosophers) stating it was heresy in the face of what was divinely revealed. Every since then the Islamic world has been the proverbial back water of the world and it was at their own hands that created this reality.

      So go on believing your fairy tales instead of realizing Islam itself was the problem not the solution for Europe and ironically the cause of the Muslim worlds problems. Ah but if your a Muslim this is falling on deaf ears because you can't believe in truth reached through critical thought when it doesn't help prop up your faith or outright contradicts it. That's the beauty of Islam–it's never my fault but always the other guys and the only answer is Islam and more Islam.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  11. Xchange

    Looks like the beginnings of a new Christian Martyr in Iran. So much for religious tolerant Islam. We can now see it as it really is.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Arthur

      @Xchange.... you should not take the actions of the Iranian government and confuse it with Islam. The Quran clearly states in the second chapter "There is no compulsion in religion". By killing this man, the Iranian government is not practicing Islam but carrying out their own personal agenda.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  12. Geekalot

    While I find this situation as intolerable as any right thinking human being should, I find it interesting that when the victim is Christian so many Christians come out of the wood work. This exact thing has been perpetrated on members of the Baha'i Faith in Iran for more than 150 years and in far higher numbers per capita than Christians. Where is the outcry from the Christians?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • IndyJim

      The old liberal argument for never doing anything about anything. Because you don't address all abuses in the world and object to every single instance of wrongdoing you are therefore stopped from objecting to ANY INJUSTICE.

      Sorry, stupid logic, stop using it liberals.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • gay republican

      Where has been the outcry from u?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      Well since this article is about a Chrsitian , it only makes sense that the outcry would be about Christians?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Blessed & Loved

      We've always been here.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • F L Schmild.

      How about Zoroastrians?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  13. IndyJim

    I thought 3 years ago that Obama the Candidate said that if we could only sit down and have tea with the Iranian Leadership we could resolve a lot of issues.

    Still waiting for the get together over tea.

    Iran's leadership is corrupt and immoral to the core. The hope for the people of Iran is that 75 percent of them are under the age of 30-35 and they desire a very different life that the mullah's would want to impose on them.

    Ak Med Need a Job should get a reality TV show when he is finally taken from office.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Resist710

      Yes, thankfully the American political system is the exact opposite...clean as a whistle.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  14. MichaelM

    Youcef, you are making Jesus very happy by standing up for Him. I pray for you.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Republicans Are The American Taliban

      Yes Jesus will smile when they behead him.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Chaz


      September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Chaz

      This man is dying for Jesus. He will get a great reward in heaven. (:

      September 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  15. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Why can't Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann just pray and have God save him. They say they speak to God all the time. I don't understand!

    September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      You don't understand because you an idiot. Did that help?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. mark

    Islam can be practiced in the USA
    Christianity can not be practiced in Iran
    whats next people of the Jewish faith cant practice those beliefs in Iran ...?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dina

      Islam cannot be practiced anymore in the USA after September 11th, 2001 attack. You can only speak of yourself, if you are a Muslim, you will understand what I am saying.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • HA215

      You're full of crap, Dina. You can go and preach it all you want in the middle of town and not be arrested.

      People may not like it, but that's their freedom. But you will be free from violence and persecution and that's better than you can say in ANY Islamic state.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  17. Question everything

    I don't care what your personal ideology is, this is repulsive.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • gay republican

      Pray for pastor and radical dems who post hate on here toward christians

      September 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  18. Bloodline Priest from AARON

    If I had to choose between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which was the CLOSEST to LITERAL Torah from the days of Moses, I would say Islam, by an neck

    September 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      I think what God decides is what God decides...I believe Jesus is his son, I beleive Jesus came from the Jewish lineage.
      Islam? didnt one son belong to Abraham and Sarah, and the other one from Abraham, and a housemaid (out of lack of faith of God giving them a child)?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jerrold

      That certainly makes no sense at all. Moses and Islam? Give me a break.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • kohanim

      Yes, but that neck wouldn't stay very long on your shoulders in places like Iran, Gaza, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan

      September 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  19. Mark

    Oh no, the US condemned an action by Iran. I bet they really care.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  20. Why do Jews and Christians hate God Creator?

    Why do Jews and Christians hate God Creator?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • gay republican

      Im repub but I thank OUR pres. For protecting gays, muslims kill gays, THANK U PRES. OBAMA

      September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • kohanim

      Why would they?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.