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. astro24102

    Stay strong.....I would never recount my religious beliefs. Iran is a 4th world country...... Don't understand why the people of Iran put up with it!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Chris

      First world: Capitalist/democracy
      Second world: Communist/socialist
      Third world: Developing/dictatorship
      Fourth world: N/A

      As a religious dictatorship, they are more a third world. But I infer that you mean they are "lower than the low" and I agree. They are pretty low. Hopefully they'll have an Arab Spring moment of their own soon. But boy, will it be bloody. Iran's mullah-mullah religious bigwig and his pet Ahma..Ahmadinejad...Ama-dama-ding-dong won't give up easily.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  2. clark1b

    I am glad we are condemning Iran's action ... but why only this one? Muslims do this daily around the world ... read the "Voice of the Martyrs"

    September 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  3. Hamid

    As a muslim in America, it is unfortunate to see how hateful we have become. The few idiots on 9/11 who called themselves muslims having not representation of Islam. The more unfortunate thing is our level of intolernce that now supercedes he intolerant that we dislike. Comments such as muslims are a disease and we must erraticate them makes little sense when we as Americans are suppose to be on the side of reason and tolerence.
    For those who love to trash prophet Mohammad, at least take a minute to understand the man before you trash him. In his time he actually said that when a person becomes engaged in a religious discussion where voices are raised, that he would walk away from the situation. It is only the good acts and deeds of a muslim should guide people to accept the religion.
    What we have here is the combined lack of understanding of Islam in the West and primarily in US and the the combined ignorance of those who call themselves Muslims. Unfortunately those whom the news media here day in and ay out present themselves as the voice of Islam represents the least of what Islam is about.
    A true muslim understands to kill an innocent person is an unforgiveable sin. A true muslim understands that Islam states that you can engage in war not to convert, but only when you are in a situation where you are not allowed to practice your religion. In addition, during the persecution of Jews in Europe, muslims did a great deal to save them without trying to convert them. Conversion in Islam is voluntary and not by force. The Iranian government is a bunch of idiots for what they are doing. Their action is not driven by Islam but by their ignorance. In Islam it states that when engaged in war, you have an obligation to protect the civilians, can not burn and destroy the enemy's food and water supply. And even if you are winning a war and the enemy extends a hand in peace and you know that is extended simply to slow down the tide of your power , you still take that hand and negotiate because God values peace over anything else.

    So please take a moment and breath. Consider not becoming hateful because of another's hateful act because to do so is to allow the hateful to win. Now you have become what they are. As a Muslim I have no hate to any Christian or Jew. I can disagree with them but at the hand shake their hand and go on my way and try to do what good I can. For those who spread hate- be it muslim, christian or Jew, you are doing nothing in the way of what God wants. After all by definition there can only be one God- and if you believe he created everything – to have hate for an act is fine, but to hate an entire group of people that the one God created, makes you no better Christian, Muslim or Jew.

    PS- Much of the wars around the world are more about control of natural resources and have nothing to do with religion but you see, you can not get someone to kill in the name of diamonds, or oil, or access to natural gas and other natural resources. It is always easier to twist God's intent to get people fighting-
    Please more reading, less hating, more tolarence-
    May God bless us all

    September 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Investor123

      Hello Hamid, what are your views on billions of dollars going in aid to countries like Pakistan when we all see in news every day what they do, should we not spend that money here at home to help our economy?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • BG

      " The Iranian government is a bunch of idiots for what they are doing. Their action is not driven by Islam but by their ignorance."

      No. Their actions are driven -directly- by the dictates of their ayatollah. Nice try on the misdirection there, Hamid.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • nds

      Hamid, I truly admire your post. I am a christian, A catholic, and only rarely post on these sites for all
      the venom and the intolerance I read from most people. You are an exception. I think what we all need
      is people of reason and tolerance to be also heard rather than only the extremes.

      My Allah / God / Jehovah (or what ever you choose) Bless You.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  4. James

    Just Lie, Criminals Do it all the time

    September 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Human species

    dear beth,

    you are whats wrong with our political system......... politically correct......... we cant go on as if nothing is wrong......... everything is wrong...........thats the nature of human beings.........WE ARE ANIMALS.......... its either us or them.... hey... you want muslims to take over...... and let the christians, jews, budists hang..................thats fine....then you lady can learn what its like to be a good female muslim..... cover your face, dont dare drive..... u will get wipped.....forget voting.... women are like dogs in muslim society...... your a second class human being..... men are strictly in charge in that religion..... there is NO political system..... its either sharia law...... or DEATH!!! so get that through your naive brain.... and read this article that my posts are based on........ preacher to die for believing in a faith.....thats not muslim..... As I said .... there is NOTHING wrong with their faith...... there is just too many radicals...... we can live in a world of fear ...... or we can take them out while we still have the upper hand.....we wont much longer

    September 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  6. David Richardson

    Hi David,

    It is interesting how people select, isolate and twist scriptures to make a point. This goes for both believers and unbelievers. So as a Pastor I will mention a couple of points here to see if it will make a difference, while I fully understanding that for some it will not make the least bit of a dent.

    First I would like to pray for a man that may die for his beliefs. For me he is a hero and to you perhaps he appears as another religious zealot. Regardless of your own personal beliefs perhaps we can agree that this is wrong and that each person should be able to believe what they will. I pray that God will have mercy on him and provide a peaceful resolution and set him free.

    About all the doubts and supposed contradictions found in the bible. This is really old stuff that has been answered over and over again. Each new generation of skeptics thinks they have found the new Bible killer. Well Dave, welcome to the club. You have said nothing new and as you should know it takes more space and time to defend against spurious attacks than to make them. So I will refer you to a book that has many of these answers you seek: "Hard Sayings of the Bible".

    One verse that has helped answered a number of questions for me is:

    But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

    This verse, in part, addresses many of these concerns. The bible is not a technical manual and should not be taken as one. It is book of teachings that leads those of us who believe to a restored relationship with our creator. For you it may be foolishness, but to me it is the power of God. Jesus came to save us and not judge us, but the time is coming when all will give account.

    Think of it this way. When little children are aware their parents are watching they act one way, but when they believe their parents are not looking they act another. So God has concealed himself to see how we act when we think he is not looking, but in fact he is. So as you live your life by empirical proof as you wish – as if you can depend on your eye sight and memory as imperfect as they are – remember each one of us will give account for what they have done in this life. Life is a test; it is a test of character. No do overs and no excuses. Just those that have accepted the grace of God and those that have not. For the proud there is resistance and for the humble there is grace.

    Finally, I don't mean to be pushy or judgmental toward you or anyone. I just want to share my faith in Jesus Christ with you and then you will make your own mind. I have all the proof I need and I am fully convinced in its truth. For those that truly seek with all their hearts God will always be found. Skeptics were around when Jesus rose from the dead and they remain to this day. In fact, they were numbered among Jesus' disciples. That being said, I would rather speak with a skeptic than a self-righteous person anytime. Skeptics understand that they have no answers, the self-righteous only have themselves.


    September 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Investor123

      Hello David, what are your views on billions of dollars going in aid to countries like Pakistan when we all see in news every day what they do, should we not spend that money here at home to help our economy?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • nympha


      September 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Ron Jones

      I think you miss the point. Everyone dies....its the journey that's important. When God works through anyone, it's not to save your physical body but to fulfill a purpose of saving someone's soul. It may be the affirmed, it may be a relative, it may even be the doctor who sees the miricle and can't wrap his brain around the logic. God is not here to grant all our technological wishes because their is something greater than a blink of an eye called a lifetime.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • sybaris

      David, if you were born and raised in Saudi Arabia your post would be about Allah and Muhammed; in Thailand, Buddah; in India, Shiva.

      You were born an atheist like everyone else. Your beliefs are just happenstance.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • David Richardson


      I was born and raised a agnostic. I studied many belief systems before calling on the name of Jesus Christ. I called out to Jesus Christ and he answered in a most convincing way. You may not believe me because it has, most likely, never happened to you. It is hard to explain to someone that has not heard the call. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find".

      I don't believe in happenstance, coincidence or luck, but rather a compassionate creator that interacts with his creation in a very personal way. I have thought about what if I had not been exposed to the gospel. The answer for was: 2:14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) Romans 2:14-15 (NIV) We are still judged by our decisions and actions and the information we have. If I had heard the gospel, however, I would have responded in any country at anytime for that is my nature. Ultimately each of us are responsible for our own decisions and actions including our response to the gospel.


      September 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  7. Adam

    They convicted Noah Wylie?????

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • k

      heh, knew he looked familiar

      September 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Lynda

    I call for all Christians to do the most powerful thing we can do for this man. Let's band together and pray for his safety and for him to be able to live in a place where he can worship our God freely. I am so thankful for this privilege today more than ever.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • ArthurP

      So you want Christians to get together and do nothing. Remember two hands working accomplishes more that thousands of hands clasped in prayer.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  9. greystoke

    Islam??? Baahahahaha...what a joke...a religion of peace??? Uh huh...they are the infidels...
    Mohamad licks pig balls like they. Are his mama....

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  10. jean

    It's to Muslim living in America to protest against Iranian Government because they are free to practice their religion in America...Don't do to others what you don't want that people do against you..
    America is a good country..

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  11. Dam

    This is how Islam was spread. If u want to live convert or else face death. After all it is founded by a pedaphile. No surrpise.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  12. Patricksday

    Let this "Christian" be a living example of ONE Christian who actually believe what he teaches and preaches, and not Fear Death. he did this for a reason, now let him live with his Choice in Iran. he is not worth Tax payers picking up a windfall for the war industry.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  13. AO1JMM

    And thats why we have FREEDOM of religion in the USA.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  14. Rabbi Green

    I'm an old man, and I realize now more then ever that believing in the same thing but disagreeing about what man wrote. Then killing each other over it is probably the greatest sin there is....

    September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  15. Rev. Rock

    It will be extremely interesting to see how the worlds Christian community will rally to assist this Pastor...and just what Christian countries will do to belp him. I for one will be praying for him deeply only because I dont have the resourxea other tban that to help

    September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  16. Recovering Catholic

    As children, we were taught that the martyrs held the highest places in heaven because of their devotion to Jesus and that to die for Jesus is the most significant sacrifice that a person can make and that we should go into the flames singing hymns and smiling. He at least has the courage to look his hangmen in the eyes and say "I forgive you". This is true Christianity as opposed to the American variety.

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

      Very good point

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

      yes that is so True, he can be an example of Jesus in todays World. Or he can be a toll to go to war with Iran, and provide untold wealth for the War Industry and Halliburton with the working class picking up the Check as usual for years to come. There is always money for WAR but not Health Care for all, or jobs with a Living Wage.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Recovering Catholic

      I would submit that by declaring forgiveness to and love for his executioners, before the deed is done, he will have sown the seeds of Christianity in many more hearts. We also understood, as children, that if such an act created two or three Christians then it was noble and worthy as well as the greatest sacrifice.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • sybaris

      Nah, he's just stupid

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Recovering Catholic

      Whatever you say, sybaris. But beliefs and human dignity still mean something to principled people. It's easy to b0mb an ab0rtion clinic and call yourself a Christian but that's not what Christianity is about. Do a Wikipedia on Maximillian Kolbe who offered his own life to spare a family in a concentration camp. There are people who live in an adult world and there are cowards who would salute any flag, kneel to any god or sell their mother to spare themselves from the bayonet. I guess you can't instill character; it's something you're born with or develop by striving to be moral and to seek justice and truth. Or you could just watch the Phillies and drink some Bud Lights.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • sybaris

      It's one thing to believe in the sun rising every morning, it's another to believe in myths and legends.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  17. LBW

    No press allowed in this "court" , no right to choose your own beliefs. What if we said no one who had been to church regularly as a child could become muslim or jewish or buddist? What if some one brought up in synagoge could not become a Christian? Freedom is not free and this brave man may just pay a great price.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  18. Chris

    He needs the prayers of all Christians.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Prayer is a great way to do nothing and still convince yourself that you are somehow helping.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • sunny lovetts

      Prayer does a million times more than you think it does. Faith can move mountains.

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

      No it can't. Stop lying.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Prayer Warrior

      Hmmm – obviously you have never tried prayer – you should give it a try – what are you so afraid of???

      September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Hmmm

      You should be careful when you make an assertion like that. I was raised catholic and believed for most of my life. I prayed, the way most do. The problem was that prayers weren't and aren't answered. A simple look at the world around us will reveal that. The millions who pray day in and day out. I don't mean for superficial things like a new car but genuine prayer for food, shelter, health, etc. Take a look at the world where the vast majority of people don't even have access to clean drinking water and tell me that their prayers are answered. Reality is not what you wish it to be. It is what it is.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • sybaris

      Hey Chris, Let's try out your prayer chain.

      Round up your fellow "true Christians". Find a "true christian" amputee and just as it says in Mark 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." Let's ask your Jesus man to grow this "true christians" limb back.

      I'll bet my paycheck it won't happen and deep down, you know it won't happen either.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  19. Investor123

    Pakistan, Iran and all these countries, we should stop helping them at once. From what little knowledge of Economics I have, we need to save money, our roads are in a mess, we need to build infrastructure here at home.
    How about not sending over the tax payer dollars to PAKISTAN and instead building better roads and health care here at home? Am I talking some alien language? Why send over money to countries like Pakistan when can put that to good use here? Is realizing this simple fact that tough?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  20. Human species

    did you ever see James Bond's....MOONRAKER...... its all about starting over...... in that movie its about creating the perfect race.....I think they have it wrong...........the perfect race is about individuals that allow everyone to be who they are and respect that as long as no one steps on anyone elses toes........... well, its really time that we as a species realize that we are not progressing ..........not ensuring the survival of a clean planet with a calm populace .......... we are leaving NOTHING for our children.......... imagine ant hills............they attack each other..... take 10,000 and place them in an acre of land...... not enough resources.......to close together........they will destroy each other............. overpopulation......not enough resources... guess what.........same thing is occuring to manking........... our only chance at a future for our species is if we act now.... while we can still save whats good about this planet...... before human destroy it.....and then each other

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

      Good..... Message, captain...... Kirk........ But what's........ With all the............ Pauses??.? They are........... Rhetorically................ Unnecessary.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • *frank*

      I liked.............Dr No.........better............because of.......Ursula.........Andress...............

      September 29, 2011 at 7:11 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.