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. Darth Vadik, CA

    That is an easy choice, convert and live, then leave the country and convert back

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

      LOL...thankfully some peoples convictions and beliefs mean a bit more than that. If you haven't believed in something so much that you are willing to die for it then you just don't understand.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Humanist

    I feel horrible for this man, and am reminded how religion poisons everything.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  3. Chaz

    I pray that God help this man. He is willing to die for Jesus Christ and the Lord will not forget that.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  4. frank

    You win the award for the most ignorant comment of the week.

    He was born there. He was raised by Muslim parents there. We did not send him there.

    Your hatred for the government that keeps you safe from nuts like the Iranians sickens me.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  5. CJP

    Actually atheists should not take offense at crimes committed by Iran. Atheism means no God, no morality. You believe what you want. Atheists can believe that it is okay to kill someone due to their beliefs. Why not? Don't forget that there is no right and wrong with true atheism.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • SPW

      You don't need religion to have moral standards.

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

      Actually, that's not true. Atheism, by definition, is a lack of belief in a deity. It has nothing to do with one's morality... an Atheist can be a a Humanist (as I am), or to your point, might have no morals whatsoever. Just as believing in a God does not dictate morality. The presence or lack of a god is completely separate from the presence or lack of morality.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Humanist

      My "that's not true" message was addressed to CJP. I agree with SPW πŸ™‚

      September 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • vince

      actually that's not true. atheism is simply the disbelief in god (or gods) and has little to do with morality. morality is determined by your culture – you can have good moral values (determining whats right and wrong) without a belief in a supreme being. things like the golden rule can be linked to humanism. the idea that you treat each other as you want to be treated doesn't have to have a divine component - its just practicality. religions like buddhism (which is more philosophy than religion) treats doing moral things like right action, right speech, right thinking as an imperative to improve oneself on the path to enlightenment - no diety required.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Rick

      You are an idiot. There have been notions of morality and good and evil long before the notion of God existed. You do not need a God to be moral or upstanding. Religious constructs as we have them through our global societies are an artifact of people in charge trying to control the ignorant masses. Religion is a crutch for the weak minded.

      Anybody who kills or persecutes another for their own religious beliefs is missing the whole β€œkernel” of what the dogma of those religions say.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  6. coder

    i wonder whih god will be more pleased with its slave – the one who murdered a man for his beliefs or the one who allowed his follower to die for his faith
    either way – god is a man made belief system that is only a few thousand years old – and in that time, no one single thing has killed more humans, than a man claiming to know the will of some kind of god Faith is good thing, faith in one's self.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. taylor91676

    The solution here is very simple, if the iranian pigs murder the pastor then we should drop some bombs or tomahawks on tehran and kill a few thousand muslims. Would be better to target their government or military but kill thousands. While the pastor has it good in heaven for sticking with his religion, the muslims will find that their dozens of virgins they were expecting will be cross dressing demons with pitch forks to stick up their nasty brown butts. If any muslim women die, well thier better off dead than how their treated in life by iranian men.

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

      You're more barbaric than Iran's government.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • gay republican

      I agree, you are WISE

      September 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Sam A.

      Kill thousands in protest of the execution of an innocent you say...

      What a Christian proposal

      September 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  8. Huh?

    The American Center for Law and Justice, a right-leaning organization? right leaning? If they were anymore right, they would fall off the edge of their flat earth

    September 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  9. 4stir

    Horrible caption for the article... it made me believe the administration was condeming the man's conviction of faith instead of Iran's conviction of the man.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • J3sus Sandals

      They should be condemning the pastor's religious conviction. Pious idiot.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  10. Jason

    Why is it so hard for some people to believe in God? Just think about the size and complexity of the universe. Think about the Big Bang. Where did it all come from? Where does it end? Infinity is a crazy thing to think about. Just thinking about that stuff alone convinces me that God exists. God is the only thing that could create something from nothing.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • DonkeyStar

      Not sure if you are responding to a comment or just didn't read the article.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Derek

    Typical hypocritical BS from that part of the world. They all act like 14th century barbarians but demand respect for their twisted views!

    September 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  12. Charles

    Our government better say something.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  13. JEN


    September 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  14. Kris

    Sounds alot like the inquisition, where thousands upon thousands of non-christians were killed. As a christian himself, he may gain a real, however ironic, "appreciation".

    September 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • CJP

      The inquisition and the crusades had nothing to do with Christianity. They had to do with corrupt governments that were looking for conformity through religion. However, the Quran is very clear about how to do handle the infidels (especially those who may have abandoned the Muslim faith).

      September 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Arthur

      CJP...I think the Bible is pretty clear on how to treat non-believers as well (Deuteronomy 17). Now you might say I'm taking it out of context, but the same can be said about the Quran.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  15. AnnieM

    Throughout history, more people have died in the name of religion than for any other reason...

    September 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Greg

      Annie, that statement is only true if you include the religion of Atheism. Google up a little history and check out the deadly results of 20th century atheistic communism. Do the math and you'll discover that Atheism has been by far the most murderous religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  16. Gregory


    September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  17. Daniel

    Can you imagine the outrage and condemnation that the Muslim world would express if an imam were to be sentenced to death for not converting to Christianity?

    September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  18. Phil

    There is no god. There is a god. It doesn't matter. I'm atheist and think this is pure BS. No one should be executed because of their beliefs.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • gay republican

      Any body want to trade obama for the pastor? They wont hurt him, hell convert in a second, and we can finally fix AMERICA

      September 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • CJP

      But you're an atheist. Why would you care if someone does or does not die for their beliefs? With true atheism there is no right or wrong. You might decide that it is wrong and another atheist might think it is a great idea.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Phil

      @ CJP

      Because no one should die because of their beliefs. Was I not clear the first time? It's not that hard to figure out what I said.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  19. Jozarto the saiyan

    dont hate because he is a christian!! i mean really!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  20. F L Schmild.

    He's probably just another CIA agent like the hikers.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jozarto the saiyan


      September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • dillio1973

      I agree...

      September 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41
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.