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)

    Example!!! No one is protesting in the streets of America that Christian will be killed for his religion. No one is burning Iranian flag..
    Can you imagine what would happen around the world if a Muslim was going to be sentenced for death if the did not become a Christian?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • dondondon

      hey Josh
      if you believe, what about all those muslims being condemmed to hell for ETERNITY– thats a long freaking time to burn you know... seems you christian A$$es are happy to have other peoples souls burn forever for not believing in your god... whats so terrible about just killing a mere mortal ?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  2. david

    To those in favor, would you still be in support if that was one of your family members

    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  3. jimbo

    The muslim leaders of the middle east do this for a reason. It is to make the sane people of the world mad and angry at them, they want us to hate them. This further seperates Islam from the rest of the world, that is their goal. They don't want to assimilate or give their citizens a choice of who they are. The more we hate them the easier it is for them to keep their sheep in line. This will continue forever and there is no stopping it, I don't see how.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |

    Btw why does the US media NEVER ONCE talk about the barbarin practices in Saudi Arabia?
    The US is quick to jump on Iran or Pakitan, but in those countries women can:
    Go to School (including university), Get a job, Vote, Drive Cars, DO NOT have to wear a Burka (hijabs are RECOMMENDED NOT ENFOCED), do not have to be accompanied by a male reletive. In Iran and Pakistan Christians and Jews are allowed to set up Church and Synagoges. They have Athiests and Hindus. In SA you are not allowed to live there if you are not Muslim (American oil workers are exceptions who live in private compounds where Saudi law does not apply).

    In Saudi Arabia its the OPPOSITE. Most terorrist funding comes from the good ol' SA, they spew anti-America sentiment. So why does the US media never talk about Saudi Arabia

    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Edwin

    The conversion option is not as bizarre as it seems - one area of Alabama actually has a conversion option (to christianity) to get out of jail for some crimes. I recall on that story that most of the posters supported it, and considered those against it anti-American.

    Personally, I think everybody should have the right to their own belief system (as long as it doesn't harm others). They should be able to worship or not, as they see fit, and they should be able to tell others about their beliefs if asked. As an atheist, I find what is happening to Nadarkhani to be a crime against humanity. I hope world pressure can change the conviction.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  6. SoSOsickoftheseguys

    They have been executing and persecuting the the members of the Baha'i faith for exactly that for the past 30 years. I feel for this guy. I know how it feels to be there and have this be done to you, your friends and family. It sucks!!!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  7. POD

    Marx was right about one thing......wiping all organized religions off the face of the earth.....then maybe....just maybe....we can all find true spirtuality on a one to God basis

    September 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Jer3333

      Your a moron.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • dmoose

      We would you want or wish that of any religion? Why do you hate so much? Generally people with faith are good people and they only want peace in the world. To wipe out is to wish for war. I pray for you

      September 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  8. lifehaven

    The sacrifice of innocent life on the altar of ambition comes in a thousand forms. This Christian, who, if he holds the doctrine of Christ, would never force the will of any man. And yet, he's called to submit to a corrupt religion that demands he sin against his own conscience (as Christianity historically has demanded and still does in some respects). But if he's laid to rest, he rests in the company of some of the world's finest human beings, whose epitaph reads, unselfish love.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  9. David Johnson

    @Christian Believers

    Some have said to me, "God works through doctors! God gives us medical wisdom.

    An Omnipotent god, if He existed, would not need doctors. He would just heal. The bible doesn't say god will heal through doctors. In none of the passages I quoted, does it mention a need for a doctor. All you need is faith, no larger than a mustard seed. LOL, 'till my sides ache.

    You go to the doctor, because you know the bible is B.S. You know prayer does not work. One shot of antibiotic, is better than all the prayers ever prayed, for curing an infection. You know it, and I know it.

    I think the appropriate word might be "knowledge" rather than wisdom.

    Knowledge – Information and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

    Man gained his knowledge, over time, through hard work. If god were responsible, why did he wait so long to give medical knowledge? Why doesn't He give a cure for AIDS and cancer?

    Why did God create all the horrid things that harm humans to begin with? All the germs and viruses and parasites...All part of god's creation. ?

    Look back through history. Man's knowledge was acquired over time. Man developed a vaccine for Smallpox. 300 to 500 million people died from Smallpox in the 20th century. If god gave man this knowledge, or allowed man this knowledge, why didn't He give it in time to save these people's lives?

    The Christian god is very unlikely to exist.


    September 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • TC

      @Athiest Beleivers

      Purporting your beliefs on th efact that another cannot prove theirs to you is flawed in its most basic sense. Quit trying so hard to convince yourself of something you can not even begin to understand or debate – it's not an intellectual issue.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Edwin

      Your argument is flawed. If God truly wished divine control over everything, God would simply do it. There would be no war or conflict, no disease, no suffering, no death.

      That is not the case, so if there is an omnipotent God, it is not God's wish to prevent all that. God may instead wish us to experience a mortal life with bumps and flaws, culminating in an eventual death. The key components may not make you healthy or safe, but they give a spiritual "added value" to the life lived.

      Under this scenario, it is no more ludicrous for a devout person to visit a doctor than it is for them to plant grain in order to help ensure a consistent food supply or get the oil changed on their car regularly. This sort of divine being prefers devotion not because of obvious miracles but because of subtle faith.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      @TC Actually, you are wrong, logically. It is impossible to prove the existence of a god. Therefore, logically, there is no god.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Vanity

      Considering one of Jesus' disciples was a physician, Luke, I find your notions that the Bible is to be interpreted to be dismissive of them narrowly conceived.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Vanity

      Logically, you cannot prove or disprove gods that don't clearly manifest themselves.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      What I mean to say is, there is no evidence to support the existence of god. Therefore, a god does not exist. This is logic. You cannot prove a negative state, so the onus of proof is on the persons believing in god.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Lion

      What if the story was about an Atheist and not a Christian. The fact that they want to kill this man because he will not convert regardless of what he believes, is just wrong. To allow this to happen you may as well kill everyone that does not agree to think the way you do or some can kill you for the same reason.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  10. LittleLordHoseaComethUntoU2Say

    He's not following Jesus's practice of: (when confronted by an adversary say yeah, yeah and nay, nay).

    September 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  11. Reza

    well i have problem with any one that thinks following his/her religion worth more than his/ her own life. no matter what the religion is. these are the types that would fly a plane into the building to make a statements, who cares, let them kill one more religious fanatics. The only reason this is getting publicity is because the dude is christian. those mofo been killing bahai's left and right and all they get is a letter from amnesty international written by a college kid from canada.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      So, in your mind, Thomas More was a religious fanatic that deservedly was executed. It would take ignorance of that level to see a person living in a totalitarian theocracy following a not-state-sanctioned religion as a fanatic and not a victim.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Reza

      being christian will not kill you, converting from any religion to Christianity will not kill you. what will kill you is if you were Muslim and then converted to any other religion after you are 15, and then you became a priest to tell every one about it. There are plenty of Bahia and converts living in Iran, I know few of them. and they all know (converts) if the government finds out they have to turn back or face death sentence. you know why they are alive? because they really care about their life and behind close doors they pray to who ever they please.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  12. dondondon

    nothing unusual here... if you have been told about Jesus being your savior, and you don't buy into it, you go to hell for all of eternity....(please, jesus, let some whacked out Jesus freak dispute that here ) so what's the problem ? If the iranians execute this guy, he will obviously go to heaven and be wth Jesus for all eternity... I am sure he told them about Jesus, so they are going to hell for all eternity...seems fair to me .. can someone who actually believes the Christian line tell me what is the problem ?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  13. Steve

    bahahahahaha! Shocker!!!! Gotta love the muslims... Join or DIE! wow! Welcome to the 21st century barbarians....

    September 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • dondondon

      hey steve
      how about the christian stand that you believe jesus is your savior, or you go to hell for the next umteen billion years ?
      how freakin barbarian is that ?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Edwin

      Or - get this - the barbaric muslims in INDONESIA!!

      They have Sharia Law! And it applies legally ONLY to muslims! So muslims can't go out publicly drinking without penalty, but christians and jews and hindus and buddhists and everyone else can - because the 'barbaric' muslim country decided that religious laws should only apply to those who follow that religion.

      Next time you want to generalize to all muslims (or all christians or all whatever), try to find out if your concern actually applies to all of them or, as in this case, only the ones in the Iranian government...

      September 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  14. beth

    This is not about religion but about a religious, FASCIST, dictator-state. the people of Iran suffer in similar ways to the people of North Korea (although they are wealthier). It disgusts me to see humans have to live under such oppressive governments. I feel very sorry for all the people of Iran who want freedom. It isn't about which religion is better. If the crazy sects of Christians were in charge of a country we would see similar atrocities. It is about fascism and dictatorship. I'm not Christian or Muslim, just BTW.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Earl Weaver

      So, what's the solution?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • beth

      I don't think there is any easy solution. There are a good % of the world's population living under dictatorships and another big % that are in actual modern day slavery. I don't think we have the resources to free everyone unfortunately. I wish the rest of the world would work to help people live freely but that isn't a big priority and even if it were it would be very difficult to do effectively unfortunately. I think encouraging the continued move to Democracy in the middle easts among Muslim nations is a start and hopefully this will help put pressure in Iran. But the Iranian government seems to have done a good job a crushing its opposition. There are many there who oppose the government but they are not powerful enough to do much.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  15. petemg

    Prayer for this man and any other person who would rather die than denounce his beliefs. This is something we will all face at one time or another. Just as he is not ashamed of his belief so will the Father in heaven not be ashamed of this man. What a faith!!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • CT

      So why does anyone need to pray for him? Can't his (and your, apparently) God save him? If he dies, won't he go straight to heaven? I'd say he's the last person that needs anyone prayers (unless, of course, you believe that there's a chance the Christian God doesn't exist and that there is no afterlife, in which case praying to a non-existent god won't accomplish anything).

      September 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  16. dave

    With TROY DAVIS the witness even told them that they made a mistake!!! there was no evidence, i wonder is this because this was a man that alledgelly killed a police officer, NOW DONT GET ME WRONG! you kill you must pay the price, but as from what i have seen in the reports he was in the wrong place and possibly the wrong color.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • dondondon

      hi dave,,,, you are on the wrong page... this story is about a guy in Iran....

      September 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  17. Dub

    This is once again another reason why religion should not be no where near Government decisions..

    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  18. WUTuSAY^_^

    Just want to let you know before you say anything about Christians doing this and doing that blah blah blah... IT IS 2011
    and Muslims are still doing this schit. 🙂

    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  19. David Johnson

    @Christian Believers

    Why do you spend any money on medical care? You have the promise of god:

    Mark 11:24: Jesus speaking
    Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

    John 14:14: Jesus speaking
    If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

    Mark 16: Jesus speaking
    16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

    James 5:15:
    And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.

    Believers babble on about faith and belief and how the bible is the inerrant word of god.
    Yet, most ignore His word, and buy health insurance and seek the knowledge of man.

    They are tweaking the nose of god! Even His spiritual nose!

    Some, have actually believed what the bible tells them. They prayed for their child, trusting in the word of god, and withheld medical care. The child died. OOOooopsie!
    Not to fret! This was part of god's plan for the young'in.?

    A true believer would never set foot in a doctor's office!

    But, they do. They seek medical care, because they don't believe the promises of god. They know, that in the real world, prayer rarely works (exception: coincidence / random chance).

    Believers attempt to smooth this over by saying a little prayer, receiving medical treatment and then giving the credit to their god, if they get well... Hmm...

    The bible says: " Sick people are oppressed by the devil. Acts 10:38
    If this is true, then how can medical care be effective? A shot of penicillin would have no effect on demonic oppression. LOL

    Christians do not believe in Christianity because it is true. To them Christianity is true because they believe it.



    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Dub

      Standing ovation

      September 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • nympha

      And how does this babble tie into this article?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You asked: "And how does this babble tie into this article?"

      If people did not believe in gods, this pastor would not be waiting upon his death.


      September 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • dave

      Your, points are not correct what are you trying to say here. I thought that the bible says to use wisdom. Now how i look at it, is i am using wisdom as God has lead men to invent these remedies, to help us while on earth. Not to walk around sick and spreading our sickness to others.

      i give you and example, yu are in a very bad car accident, and police and fire are there to help you, you are bleeding like crazy, so what are you going to tell them? wait stop, the Lord is going to make it better, then you look up and its another Christian standing over you and they say we know he sent us! to help you ... what are you going to say?

      September 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Rhody

      Nothin' but logic coming from this one. You give me hope, Dave. You said it, and you said it smart. Amazing things will happen when people are finally broken free from the chains of religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  20. Human species

    It is clear that there are just too many rotten apples (including entire countries) that practice this crap faith called muslim.... its really just another form of crazy religious beliefs much like the westboro baptist church...... (by the way... lets fly the westboro guys over to Iran or Pakistan...... )....... Its time for the world to wake up and realize that its only a matter of time till they set off some nukes and we are all in for it...... its not about any one religion....its about our species or planet and our legacy that we leave to our children....they can either live in a world of intolerance from all these crazies... or we can make a statement..... that we cannot allow for such cruel and evil beliefs...... I respect the musliim religion...but I prefer a bright future for our race than a fog.... that will inherently spell doom for the human race........ if we dont act now...then our race may surely be lost..... why the hell did we create nuclear bombs if we dont use them...... lets at least use some atomic bombs...... and send that entire region of planet earth to hell!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • beth

      You won't like this but there were a bunch of 'rotten apples' who were Christian who committed various atrocities over the ages–the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of 'witches', the committers of the Holocaust–Nazis, the KKK, etc. Christianity doesn't make one immune to such crazy acts like this and you aren't any better than the Muslims. Extremists are extremists and don't represent whole religions. However, your religion isn't blameless by any means.

      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.