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. John

    Islam. The religion of peace

    September 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  2. DC Observer

    Where is Richard The Lion Heart when you need him? Or El Cid?

    If the jail him - or worse, Id expel all the UN Iranians in NY or else lock them up as potential terrorists and send them all to Guantanamo. enough is enough with this jerk water contry.

    And if their navy ships come inside our international birders, I'd sink them on the spot.

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

      if it is international waters , it means its not your borders- At least if you going to sink the ship, make sure you do it right

      September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  3. Socal

    This is why Bachman will get my vote. Her husband will tell her to drop a big ol christian nuke on this islamic sandbox.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • DC Observer


      September 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Socal

      Why stop at deporting UN Iranians, why not round them all up?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  4. Pepinium

    Agree with Human Species on everything, including the GO GATORS part (class of 77 !!), and with Chris on the getting into space part. Whats most embarrassing is the certainty that in a couple of centuries they are going to judge us the way we now look at the Dark Ages because of all these religious nuttiness going on, all over the world, including the USA !!! Please Beam me Up Scotty !!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  5. alemeh2

    Another excuse for the USA to attack iran, why are Americans so stupid to believe every news on CNN or any other news media in this country?

    They are and we have Christian in Iran as well.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  6. LV

    Basically the same thing has happened across the ME many times, especially to Jews. We need to be more direct calling Iran and other nations/groups enemies, permanently, and dealing with them accordingly.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • gay republican

      Black folks please read the evil words towards christians here by radical dems and come home to the party of lincoln who freed ur people from slaves, u can vote for herman cain, hes at the top of all polls now with repubs

      September 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  7. noemi

    I'm going to get so much hate for this I don't give a sh-( .we americans need to send plane loads of the mormon cult there startinh with Romney and his clan.but there cult has a lot in comman with the mormons they also belive when they die they well be met by all 7_9 wives.and I'm sure sister sara would enjoy it there 2.can they see russia from there?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  8. Hmmm

    Should we, in the 21st century, hope for a heaven elsewhere or should we work to create one here on earth?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  9. Jennifer

    Until there is no religion,there is no safety,freedom or peace.

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

    Blind leading the blind.

    When can we recant all religion and move on to things that matter, like getting our butts into space?

    Sooner or later, a big rock's gonna solve all our debates over made up problems like jesus vs. mohammed or jacob vs. edward for us.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  11. Kerry Berger

    This is an outrageous violation of international protocols on religion. It is time for the UN to condemn Iran for these violations and insist that this pastor is freed from prison and his guilty verdict is tossed out. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a disgrace and a rouge nation that needs to be scrutinized from top to bottom.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Joshua Powell

      I agree one hundred percent Iran is a nation that needs to have their leadership destroyed for violations to human rights over and over again.

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

      Iran doesn't care what the world court or UN say. And on this, I agree with them. *gasp*

      The UN is a toothless, decrepit geezer standing on a soapbox. It just talks and talks (more often than not about inane things) and lacks the power to do anything.


      They don't care. Their people will suffer, and the leaders will continue living off those people's hard work. Sanction on exacerbate human rights problems.

      Arm the UN or disband it.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  12. David Johnson

    The other night, when we were playing cards, one of players related a really eerie story. I will share it:

    I was told (No idea if it is true) of a family of five,that was involved in a head on collision with an 18 wheeler at 70 mph.
    Everyone perished. The car was totally destroyed. The driver of the 18 wheeler lived, but was never "right" again. He keeps mumbling, "Oh, the humanity!"

    Still gleaming, from the Armor All little Betty had lovingly applied, that fateful morning. Doing this, always made Betty feel closer to god. She could feel His pleasure.

    I wonder if she noticed how good the statue looked, as she was catapulted through the windshield? One would hope.

    It is miracles like this, that raise the hairs on the back of my neck. That help me to know, the supernatural exists!

    I heard the church the family belonged to, decided to display the wreckage in the front of the church. They want the faithful to see the power of god, for themselves. A small spot light was installed to illuminate the little statue of Jesus, for night viewing.


    September 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Chris


      People like you are the reason we can't have nice things.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  13. Mormons-R-Cult

    It's their country and they make the rules. This guy broke them. No sympathy whatsoever.

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

      So all rules are morally equal?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Amen, brother!


      September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Morals are relative.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      I wonder if MRC would have said the same think about Mandela.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Chris

      True. You can't expect people in such a primitive country to be happy about the fact that you come in and try to convert people from their brand of nonsense to your brand of nonsense. They don't have freedom of speech, they don't have freedom of the press. It's a sandy hellhole in the desert. Why did you go there? Try to talk to diplomatic consul, say what you gotta say, and get out of there with your life intact. Your god, if it existed, would not reward you for being stupid.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Pwilson

      You are cold and lifeless. I declare you a corpse.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Chris- it could have something to do with what is known in Christianity as the Great Commission. There are some that would risk their lives for an ideal or concept.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Chris

      @Uncouth Swain: Devotion to an idea is often admirable. When that devotion results in death however... To put it bluntly, this man is now quite unlikely to pass his genes/ideology on to the next generation.

      Doing something because a character in a book told you to adds an entirely more nonsensical level to it. If you want to believe in fairy tales that's your business.

      When you follow the trail of breadcrumbs to an uncivilised, dangerous part of the world? Well that's pretty darn stupid. Better luck next time.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Doing something because a character in a book told you to adds an entirely more nonsensical level to it. If you want to believe in fairy tales that's your business."

      When did this become about me?

      And for many...he is not a "character" in a book. At the very least, most scholars consider Jesus a historical figure and a philosopher of sorts.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Chris

      @ Uncouth Swain. I'm not talking about you. Please don't misinterpret my use of the general "you" as an ad hominim against.. well, you. I should have used "one". My bad.

      If one chooses to believe in a fairy tale, and dies because of it, that's tragic but ultimately Darwinism in action. A person colder than myself might find irony in the fact that religious people are often most adept at proving Darwinist concepts accurate.

      When it come to Jesus, there is some historical evidence for his existence. If I remember correctly: four historians make note of him, but one of those accounts was proven a forgery written nearly 1000 years after the fact.

      No historians note the existence of a god, however. Except of course as an abstract concept people kill each other over. Taken this way, history likely shows gods of one flavour or another as some of the most destructive and violent forces ever recorded, both directly and when used as an excuse for less "divine" but ultimately just as horrific acts committed in the name of religion, but purely for the sake of power, resources or land.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Please don't misinterpret my use of the general "you" as an ad hominim against.. well, you. I should have used "one". My bad."

      Tis cool. The comment board doesn't always make for the best conversation areas.

      September 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  14. Human species

    Jesus.........I really hate religion................... I mean we are human beings....lets enjoy it!!!!!!!! We could be mosquitoes...... I mean we have got college football......... snowboarding in Vail..............Kiteboarding (my favorite)............ Barbecues and alcohol all weekend long.......... and hot babes that shave and dont have mustaches.....whats wrong with muslims.... they just dont get enough of the good life

    September 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • gay republican

      Christians dont hate gays, muslims murder gays, christians just hate our sin because they know it hurts us

      September 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  15. markus

    Any religion so threatened by another that they would convict and kill those who believe in something else is a weak religion.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Spiffy

    My magical sky daddy is better then yours!

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

      Exactly. First christians kill muslims, then muslims kill christians. Just another day in the fantasy world of religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      That shouldn't be hard because no one else on here has claimed to have one but you. Aren't you so special.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Spiffy

      So Christians don't call God their Father?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Again I state...no one but you has claimed any "magical sky daddy".

      September 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  17. This is the right choice

    I hate Iran, why do they help them

    September 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • gay republican

      Christianity is the real religion

      September 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Joshua Powell

      This man will go meet God and be welcomed into heaven. I hope the Iranians who convicted this man and the people who support this burn in hell for eternity with no food or water to touch their lips. A lot of muslims are good people and you are supposed to love your neighbors but this is just sick.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Chris

      This man will be dumped into a hole in the ground.

      His existence will end because he was stupid enough to go to a country full of people blindly faithful to rubbish and try to get them to transfer that faith to another sort of rubbish.

      Do not pass go, do not meet your fictional god(s).

      September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  18. tnoutside

    And people STILL need to be told that religion is a horrible, nasty, evil device?
    One country KILLS because you don't believe in THEIR version of magical super beings in the sky while some guy DIES for his different view of magical superbeings in the sky.
    Wow. Really?
    And WHAT century is this????? Better not break a mirror as a black cat cross your path as you walk under a ladder while spilling salt......
    My gosh people......

    September 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  19. Human species

    hey caleb.............thanks.......but I like using these pauses....... and by the way..... Im agnostic..... always felt religion was for the weak minded........ and by the way....... GO GATORS!!!!!!! kick some alabama butt this weekend......

    September 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  20. Chris

    Blind leading the blind.

    When can we recant all religion and move on to things that matter, like getting our butts into space?

    Sooner or later, a big rock's gonna solve all our debates over made up problems like jesus/mohammed or jacob/edward for us.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:09 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.