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. Kelly

    Religion is not the culprit here people! It's the people in positions of power that use , corrupt and abuse religious doctrine to control the people. I speak as a Pagan saying let everyone have their beliefs..let's please just be peaceful about it.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • HA215

      If you study Religion more you'll realize it is inherently violent because it is inherently insecure and is relegated to using threats and violence to keep people from asking too many questions. This is true of all religions but at this point in time Islam especially. You can't separate those in charge of a religion and their attempts to hang onto power from the religion itself.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • azanon

      This is the equivalent of saying drinking and driving is not bad because some people manage to make it to their house without killing anyone in the process.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  2. kuki

    It’s has been prove again the reason why we have all these war’s is the reason of belive…stop reading the Bible and just be happy for what you have instead judging who other live their life….

    September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  3. Patricksday

    The male ego is what is destroying the World, Pride and fighting to the Death for your Ego and its values. He should know the laws of his country and pay the price if he chooses to live like he is in a Democracy. Just more stiring of the Pot to go to war with Iran, getting the male egos in the Southern States fired up to Kill in the name of Religion and those who manipulate them by doing this news reporting.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Richard

      Just another example of why believing in a false god is a bad idea. If you're going to believe fairy tales you might as well believe the one that doesn't get you executed.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  4. stevie68a

    This guy's delusion, to him, is better than their delusion. He's willing to die, and they're ready to kill. To top it off, we have people
    posting about their Imaginary Lord. jesus is imaginary, jesus is imaginary. Shout it from the rooftops! We are in a New Age, and
    there is an awakening to the fact, that the stories we were force fed as children (brainwashing), now seem quaint, and downright
    phony. Teach ethics instead.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • CJP

      That's strange. History confirms without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus lived on this planet earth. What do you mean he is imaginary??? Also where's the body???

      September 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • HA215

      Oh Good Lord, CJP. Your ability to selectively quote science is astounding.
      Let's start at the first few sentences of the bible. Please explain how God created Light and Dark on Day 1 but not the Sun or the Earth or rotations that cause Light and Day until Day 4. Also that whole "Firmament" thing I wonder how the Apollo missions got through that.
      While you're at it explain ANY of Noah and how Polar Bears and Elephants coexisted on 1 400 foot wooden arch and how even two of each of the 150,000 species of BEETLE made it onboard and oh what they all ate when the waters receded.
      We'll cover the Dinosaurs tomorrow.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  5. azanon

    So a government who support the belief of one imaginary being, is going to kill a guy because he worships a different imaginary being? I can only but imagine what they'd do to a scientist such as myself who doesn't believe in any adult versions of Santa Claus.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • johnutah

      Who was the imaginary being who created you o wise one????

      September 29, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Kelly

      Geez...I can only imagine what the would do to me, because I revere MANY "imaginary beings" . I don't think the Gods are imaginary, but I don't think they are actually people in the sky either. I get the disdain from all angles. The folks from the Abrahamic faiths tell me I'm going to Hell, and the Atheists tell me I'm delusional and stupid for my beliefs. (I'm Pagan) LOL

      September 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • HA215

      spoken with the smugness, johnutah, of a true believer. Like you know the answer to that question.
      The Real problem is 2000+ year old dogma prevents a true approach to that question that might actually find an answer and satisfy mankind's spiritual needs.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • azanon

      I don't understand why people even view their "beliefs" as relevant. I can tell you what theories have lots of evidence, which have only a little evidence, and which are not based on evidence. I don't endulge in presuming or believing anything without clear evidence because it would be inherently illogical. Step out of the box and try focusing on what "we" know, what we don't know, and be comfortable with the vast uncertainty of all those things that fall in the middle. I know. That takes a lot of courage. Dare to be different! Dare to be educated and live like it.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Rick

      which imaginary being created everything? why is it that a creator has to be a judge?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  6. Ray

    I thought Islam was all about peace?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  7. kuki

    I told you the Bible is the reason why we have to many war's......

    September 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • BorisMKV

      Name the all wars in history that have been directly caused by religion (other than the crusades). Go ahead. Try to get more than a dozen.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm an atheist, but I support freedom of religion. We should never force people to believe something. Including atheism.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Mike

      And the Qur'an is blameless? Or any other holy book, for that matter?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • HA215

      Boris, you mean besides the 350,000 God directly killed in the Bible and the other 1,8 Million He ordered Murdered in the Bible?

      Christian v Romans 30-300 CE
      Spanish Inquisition
      Al Quada
      Salem Witch Hunts
      Northern Ireland
      Bosnia 1992-1995
      Boxer Rebellion
      Croatia 1991-1992
      Russian Pogroms 1905-06
      Thirty Years War 1618-48
      30 Days War
      Dutch Revolt 1566-1609
      Nigeria 90's and 2000's
      Somalia 2000's

      September 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  8. John John

    Wow... Them Persians act like a bunch of Arabs. I thought they got mad when you say they are like Arabs?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Edwin

      What an ignorant comment! Can you name an Arab country with a death penalty for this? Or even one where it is illegal to be another religion than Islam? Good luck finding one - there are none. Yes, christians face persecution in many countries, but do not ignorantly lump them together - it does everyone a disservice.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  9. Taffey

    Religion is truly the root of all evil on this planet. When will we learn?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Ray

      No, money is!

      September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  10. Sharon

    To the main stream media-who have long denied the Sharia Law–the Muslims mission to make everyone a Muslim believer in Allah-this is close to the door step in DC. This is a belief-Allah's mission-to take Christians out–so Allah has full control. Muslims believe they are the ONLY ONES–going to Paradise--ALL WHO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST–will go straight to HELL–and will never see heaven.

    It took Obama how long before he acted on behalf of this Pastor? Sounds like the day of the so-called execution Obama made a statement. If that is so-Americans wake up before 2012.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • John John

      Listen TROLL, Obama has nothing to do with this. Please leave that GOP drivel on Fox Noise where it belongs.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  11. jeffbo

    The US needsa to ignor these people in the middle east and let them do as they will. They are crazy, each and everyone of them. What business do we have continually being involved there, are we gluttons for punishment ?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Edwin

      You do realize that Iran is not in the Middle East, right?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  12. Sam A.

    So, another Middle Eastern version of the O.J. trial I see.

    The powers that be have really learned how to keep the masses occupied, haven't they.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Jason

    Terribly sad story, we take for granted so many freedoms we have in this country.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  14. Rodney

    People who say that religion is B.S. does so out of convenience to merely justify their continued delusion of grandeur that they are in somehow control (and, in fact, their own God). That, my friend, is b.s.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • CJP

      Right on Rodney! Atheism is just an excuse to keep on sinning. Atheists cannot accept God because they are too arrogant to recognize him. They choose to be their own god and make up the rules as they go because they don't have the character required to submit to someone greater than them.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Edwin

      CJP: other than their non-belief, atheists tend to "sin" less than christians. Perhaps they do more actions YOU consider sins, but their overall morality is generally better than that of the typical christian.

      If I recall, it is supposed to be God who judges others, not the mortal (like you). To sit in judgement on others' bad habits is, I believe, a very bad sin. It is also one that MANY christians actively practice, and rarely repent.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Rojas

      Nothing so elaborate.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  15. Bob

    I like how Muslims arrest anyone of other religions in their own countries, but demand we allow them to practice Islam in ours.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  16. phearis

    Islam.... it's a misunderstood religion of Peace and Understanding. Yep.....

    September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Richard

      The myth that Islam stands for peace and that it's regionalized cultural mores that make Islamists kill infidels and genitally mutilate females is complete b.s. Even craven leftists who will bend over backwards to support these people are starting to realize this. Islam caused 9/11 and the deaths of the million or so people they've attacked in the last 20 years through their terrorism.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Edwin

      Your argument is flawed. This is an example of a totalitarian state (Iran) using a religion to suit their own agenda. Things like this never happen in Turkey, Indonesia, or the other more 'civilized' muslim states. Because of that, the media never reports on Turkey, Indonesia, etc. - so the American public gets duped into thinking all muslim countries act this way.

      Actually, even those muslim countries with serious problems - like Syria, Libya, etc. - do not act like this. Persecution of christians DOES happen in those countries, but persecution of muslims also happens. In short, the countries have bad human rights records for everybody. It is not a reflection on Islam - it is a reflection on the way the countries are run, which is via corrupt governments.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  17. guod

    Islam is after all a peaceful religion.........

    September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  18. Ed

    What's the problem with the Persians?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  19. Lee

    I can't believe what I'm reading, on the other hand that has happened a lot lately. It's pathetic, that a person who believes in Allah, which in fact is the same as God, just another name can sit there and condemn a man to death because he calls God God. What is wrong with that country? What gives them the right to play the almighty and say what is right. Just sickening.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • US Patriot

      Actually, it's NOT the same thing, but that's another discussion for another time. I agree that putting someone to death for their beliefs is pathetic, dangerous, sad, and stupid.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • gay republican

      Allah aint GOD, Allah is SATAN

      September 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • bill

      Its a little more complicated than that. There is also the issue of two major people: Mohammad & Jesus. In one religion, only one of those two guys existed and he was the Son of God. In the other, they're both prophets and you should die die die.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Edwin

      This is purely a political stunt. The government of Iran wants to court the hard line conservatives in their country, who are - just as in America - strongly religious and pretty intolerant of other religions. The rules are different, because Iran is nothing like a democracy (and for other reasons), but the motivation for this religious attack is to shore up political support, not to practice Islam.

      Incidentally, this practice (putting to death non-believers) is not consistent with the core of Islam; it is an offshoot of radical beliefs.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  20. Mel

    This man is a hero!! God bless him!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • gay republican

      Lets give iran our 6 million muslims for their one christian, THATS A GOOD DEAL

      September 29, 2011 at 6:04 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.