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. Phoenix Rising

    "LORD... strengthen and sustain our brother. Manifest Your Presence and give HIM YOUR peace. we pray for his release either in Iran or to be with YOU. Strengthen ALL of Your people in IRAN and let this story only work to Multiply YOUR followers in IRAN as it did in the early days of persecution. Make Your people BOLD.. remove all fear. Let YOUR LOVE and FORGIVENESS be REVEALED in their responses. IN YOUR NAME LORD JESUS.. AMEN!"

    September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  2. Mark from Canada

    This is what religion does to people, on all sides. Help create a moral world and convert to rational thinkers. It is hard to imagine in this day in age that people are still believing and willing to dye for a fairytale. What is even more distressful is that religion permeates its way not only through Iran, but in American politics as well. When we have a gay, black, athiest president – then there will be peace on earth (not really, but you get my point).

    September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • captain america

      If you are from canada it is unlikely you will have a president of any kind.CNN is am American news network are there none in your own country?Why not keep your point in the far north where it belongs ,eh?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • proud kafir

      On all sides? Name one other religion that kills those who do not believe in their religion. Islam is in a whole different plane from every other faith in this world.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mark from Canada

      proud kafir "On all sides? Name one other religion that kills those who do not believe in their religion. Islam is in a whole different plane from every other faith in this world."

      Um...Christian? There, that wasn't all that hard was it? Christians have learned not to do the killing out in public, the just elect governments that send off their soldiers. To Captain America – yes, stick your head in the sand and remain isolationist within your own country. My father was an American, my grandmother is American, my uncles are all Americans, and I have lived in America. I have deep roots in America, but that is inconsequential to your stupid statement.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  3. AB

    Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani don't ever renounce your belief in the Lord Jesus instead renounce their evil islam/koran man made garbage. Iran is doing you a favor because absent from the body is present with the Lord for those who knows him.

    Imaging you believe on a religion that asks you to make rules for men which will be very exusted or renounce their belief. All they ever do in these islam non sense is forcing their rules on people by treating men and women like slave. For those who always think that Christianity is nothing but a myth, why is Jesus Christ or Christians offend the world so much? If Jesus is not real why asking someone to give up their belief on Him for, it’s because they know it is true but they failed to accept the fact that it is true that the Lord is real. If Jesus is not real why not ignoring those who believe on Him as they do any other religions like Buddha, Hinduism, voodoo all of them are different belief. Don’t worry Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Lord will take care of that country soon. They will report to Him when the time is right.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • gay republican

      Thank you, ur words made me cry, GOD BLESS U

      September 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Kevin

      Your double standard and special pleading made half my brain try to escape out my left ear.

      Please stop trying to communicate with other humans.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  4. Um...where's the news???

    STILL not mentioning the OccupyWallStreet movement? That's good. It really shows us all where CNN stands on things. Now we know. This blackout on an important news story will NOT soon be forgotten.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  5. Rene

    And Hollywood led many to believe that the Anti-Christ was some demoned up kid bend on destroying things. The Anti-Christ is not a person, but any belief system that persecutes and kills those who believe in the teachings of Christ. in the case of Iran, it is their interpretation of a book called the Quran and it's Sharia Law that is Anti-Christ. How can you have freedom of religion when one religion is instructed to destroy all others. That is why Islam is being scrutinized in Western worlds. Not because it shares the same roots as Judeaism and Christianity, but because of the central tenent of Islam that all non-Muslims must convert. I would rather choose death over being forced to accept this hateful religion anyday of the week. That is why so many people around the world choose death in these countries.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  6. agsn

    Is it me, or is his nose a bit too crooked?

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

      The blunt end of a rifle will do that to a person's nose over time in Iran.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  7. Kevin

    Atheist here, and I as always side with tolerance. The only thing I'm intolerant of is intolerance. So that puts Iran in it's usual place of being dead wrong and playing with human lives for their inane international grandstanding.

    I only hope I live to see the revolution in Iran that erases the last one.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  8. USisDead

    Once again, we need to mind our own BUSINESS!!!!!!!!! We have enough problems here.... idiots.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  9. Erisian

    Although I think it's strange that the guy bases his life on an event that never actually happened, I respect his right to believe it and to preach it. Unfortunately the Iranian government wants to fulfill its middle aged barbaric stereotype. I know it's for posturing on the homefront but the government needs to recognize that in an open world its days of being able to rule the people absolutely are numbered and they are only furthering the divide.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  10. taylor91676

    A few nukes up irans butt would fix everything permanently. If their lonely we can send north korea and somalia with them.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  11. Nino Brown

    I am a muslim and its stuff like this that just tick me off n make it diffcult for everyone. Muslims and Christians have been coexsisting for hundreds of years and even praying along side each other on mutual holly sites for even longer. I mean sure there will always be conflict but conversion to another religion at gun point sort of defeats the whole purpose. Iranians are all a bunch of nut bags anyway.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Samueltx

    Religion of Peace....

    September 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  13. jack

    Typical CNN feedback that a story about a man sentenced to die for being a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam would bring out all the Christian-haters instead of the death penalty haters or people pointing out the hypocrisy of Islam. People attacking Christianity while Muslims want to murder a man for not converting to Islam. Yeah, that makes sense. Once again it's the people whose world view is US = bad, everything non-US = good. You're a bunch of idiots folks.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • proud kafir

      Well said.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  14. jschau

    A religious idiot in a religious idiot country. I don;t care.

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

      you cared enough to write....

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

      That's why no one cares about punks like you.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |


      September 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • proud kafir

      Well they want sharia all over the world. They won't just stay put. They are everywhere now.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Brian

    Islam, destroying lives world wide

    September 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  16. Prasad

    May God bless and protect Youcef Nadarkhani . Keep him in your prayers.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  17. George Washington Carver

    My brethrens, might it be helpful for our diplomats to extend an olive branch in the form of a gift basket of that wholesome miracle food, the humble yet regal peanut?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  18. marik

    Hikers, pastors... exactly how many Americans are in Iranian prisons?

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

      My bad, he's not an American.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  19. Truthwillsetyoufree

    The country there understand martyrs tho. It will probably help christianity take of more if they do kill him. BUT hey we have to watch our own ass right now or we will be there soon too.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  20. John

    Stop buying their oil. I gotta go with Silly Sarah on this one. Drill baby, Drill!

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


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

      I don't think we buy oil from Iran.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:14 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.