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. Don

    Just another attempt by Zionists to drum up support for war against IRAN. Why does anyone care about one man half way around the world? Why is this American news? Iran poses no threat to the US at all In fact, buddy looks like a Jewish and Persian to me. Classic Mossad..

    September 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Pwilson

      I care about all people. No matter where they are. You are cold.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • LESartiste

      we care because what's happening to him is wrong. and i agree that what you just said is absolutely cold. i dont believe in any religion, but i believe that people are free to have belief in whatever they want. they shouldnt have to die because others think they shouldn't believe any anything other than what THEY believe in.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  2. Kenneth

    You can save more souls in this world by lying and living than you ever could by sticking to your convictions and dying. We atheists will think you stupid regardless of your actions, and the people will faith will mourn. You can however, by living, convince those on the fence perhaps.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • emma

      They will come for atheists also. You miss the point. There is no freedom to believe anything there except what the state allows. He will be executed for what he BELIEVES. That is the travesty. You believe in being an atheist. They will come for you too. They will be more violent and deadly to atheists than to anyone other than Jews.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  3. Durka Durka

    So. Let me get this straight. He does not want to convert to Islam so they are going to kill him. The middle east needs to get its priorities straight. Or hey could just sandbox Iran...Afghanistan...Iraq...World is peaceful.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Locrian

    Religion begets violence. Stop worshipping jerks, you'll be safe. 😉

    September 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  5. Barry G.


    You obviously know nothing about the Hebrew Scripture!

    I suggest you go back and read it, in its entirety and in its context.

    I suggest you begin by reading Deuteronomy and then read Leviticus.

    Then come back and tell us what you've learned.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  6. guests1234

    Islam....the religion of peace !!!!...( or should I say..pieces )

    September 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  7. Rudi

    this is the real face of Iran....and we at the west want to excuse them.......this is the real deep "thinking"...if we let it go there way...the have a final solution....CONVERT or die..... with whom are we negotioating? we may wake up already...... thanks wwwTheDimensionMachineDOTcom

    September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  8. fistface

    Christians got away from the killing spree activity hundreds of years ago. Muslims however, even after society has evolved, seem to follow a very ignorant path still. They are a cancer on this earth and should be systematically eliminated.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • sybaris

      All religions should be eliminated

      September 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Edwin

      Umm... as a mostly christian nation, we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan; we killed tens of thousands of people, including many whose only crime was to be in the way of a tank or bomb.

      Christians in many parts of Africa engage in bloody warfare for territory. Conversely, MOST muslims do not work towards war at all. They ACTIVELY oppose things like this.

      Looking at it another way, too: the privileged few in the Christianized world no longer engage in World Wars and atrocities largely because they actually control most of the world's resources. Christians do not have to kill others to have enough food, or to get a new iPod. If they did, I'd bet we would have a lot more violence...

      September 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  9. Sad

    This is why our race can't have nice things...

    September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  10. scir91onYouTube

    can you really believe in christianity when you look at how many religions have come and gone and all are pathetic? especially the jewish religion that says non jews (gentiles) are less than jews. same goes for that awful caste system in india with people born as lower than others in human value of a life. religion is terrible. may as well pray to zeus and greek gods or to the ones the egyptians did or the sumerians. same nonsense. but ONE exception. now ALL done in an age of education!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  11. Strangewalk

    Whether one shares his faith or not, it's inspiring to know that there are still people with the strength of conviction and spiritual depth that enables them to die for their beliefs. What a switch from American culture dominated by Hollyweirdos continually promoting the morality of alleycats.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • sybaris

      Nah, to die for imaginary sky daddies is actually ................... stupid

      September 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Answer

      I will die for my family, my country and friends. Never for religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Edwin

      I'm an atheist, and I'm willing to pray for his safety. If he were actively subversive, that might be different, but I value the freedom to worship without penalty and without condemnation.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  12. aceblazin

    It's Iran not Islam. Stop hating.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • gay republican

      Islam is an evil cult that murders gays, u are the vile haters, u belong in hell

      September 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Edwin

      gay: you are acting like a troll. Please stop. Join the discussion, if you have anything worthwhile to say.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  13. gager

    This makes Islam and christianity look as evil as it really is.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • lolwut

      How is it showing Christianity is evil when they're telling him to convert from it to Muslim or kill him?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Joey

    I hate when news stories are in a blog on CNN and other websites. I don't know why. It just doesn't look professional.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  15. zlul

    I wonder when people in the USA will wake up and realize the rest of the world doesn't operate or believe the same way/things as they do.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. NoTax

    Islam is evil

    September 29, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • gager

      Islam and christianity are evil.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  17. greystoke

    Mohomad...up yours! Mohomad and islam??? Can blow me! Convert?? Lmao!!!! Rrrright!!! You are a sickness like eblola...you are a disgrace to humanity...mohomad...he was a pedophile...and into beastiality...he did the village donkey...

    September 29, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Susej

      You are a disgrace to the nation.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Mike


      September 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  18. Mike

    All they want is for him to say a few words. He doesn't have to believe them. He can cross his fingers, or pretend he is acting a role in a play. What's the harm in that? When in Rome....

    September 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • what1ever

      well... if it gets you into heaven

      September 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Edwin

      Devotion is an important thing. During the Middle Ages, European Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or be executed for being heathen all the time.

      It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Barry G.

    This just proves that Iran is as vile as Ancient Rome, which tortured and murdered faithful Christians for three hundred years, under evil emporors like Nero and Dometian.

    And the message Jesus and his followers proclaim is that we are to love, help and serve one another.

    Anyone who would be opposed to this godly and holy message is surely in league with the satanic.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Susej

      Have you read the old testament? I see where it wants prophets put to death.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  20. Susej

    I hear more terroristic comments coming from my fellow americans than I see from any muslim... It's sad what you have become.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Have you ever been to Iran or Saudi Arabia?

      Let me see you go there and express your ideas.

      See how long it takes you to see violence and hate.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • gay republican

      Susej, u are a vulgar soar on humanity

      September 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Edwin

      Susej: people who post usually share extreme viewpoints. Although they are the most vocal, they do not actually represent all underlying feelings in America.

      Remember: somebody suggesting we blow up muslims is NOT the same as that someone actually taking steps to do so. Terrorists actively work to kill and harm; obnoxious posters merely strive to get a response from reasonable people. Not the same.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:51 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.