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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. Mark Yelka

    Any religion can turn brutal. Anything based on a false premise can lead to anything. For you mathematicians out there: false implies true.

    So, what's false? The notion of god.

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

      Based on what????....................................You gave an OPINION, but what is it based on? What's the matter little man, cat got your tongue?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Chris

      @Crendenza: The fact is there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of gods, elves, or the tooth-fairy.

      There is far more evidence for UFOs than your precious "god". You know how they ridicule UFO people, right? Well hey, at least they have grainy pictures.

      What you you have? An old book, a bunch of other idiots who were raised to believe in the same/a similar fairy tale, and an undeserved feeling of contentment? What a hollow life.

      Hope that works out for you.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  2. Johnny

    Please pray for him. Please God help our brother to be strong in his faith and to be with him at all times. This brother knows what he believed.

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

      I'm with you 100%. Thank you for a thoughtful and post. God Bless him and you too for your kindness to a fellow man in trouble.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Dee

      I have been praying for him, Johnny.....just please don't tell anyone. After all, muslims are now running the world, including North America. They are taking over.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  3. Ashrakay

    @Spiffy, I don't think he's worth even replying too. Some people lack the intelligence to free themselves from the idea god.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • gay republican

      Herman cain would get that pastor to america

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jon Samuel

      Well the Bible tells us there will be scoffers who think the gospel is foolish.

      If you think about it we all get what we want. Those that believe that God exists and want to be let into His house will be let in. Those who decide God exists and do not wish to be let into His home will live forever outside the home in a self-contained void forever and ever (Hell). So we all get what we want.

      You might ask why don't you just die and it's over. No it's never over because God created man in His image with an immortal soul. If Christianity is wrong then I just die and it's over and nothing is wasted. If you are wrong then your body will die but you will spend eternity suffering in isolation.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  4. DrDoITT

    This is a battle within the iranian state between the ayatolahs and the not-so-religious people (including ahmedinijad). For all his hateful anti-holocaust bamboozle, ahmedinijad has grown a backbone and is not doing the will of the ayatolahs blindly, and they are furious. All manner of crazy things are happening in this fight. check it out.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Credenza

      Well done, great post. At least ONE person in America is looking outside the box. And understands the situation. Thanks.

      Most of the selfish trolls on here are turning this young man's sacrifice for his faith into a forum for their own petty grievances.

      God Bless you, Youcef. I'll pray for you.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  5. Mike in NC

    It always saddens me to see how far people will go and what they are willing to lose in order to hold on to their mythologies. It's sad the the pastor wouldn't let go of his fiction even by threat of death and it's even more sad that someone would feel the necessity to threaten someone's life make him "convert" to their equally fictional mythology.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Jon Samuel

      It is sad that people like you condemn the victim instead of the criminal (Iran). Religious persecution was a major reason that drove people to risk their lives and come to the America and settle this country. We should all pray for this pastor's quick release.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • this guy

      your incredible stupidity astounds me

      September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • this guy

      not you jon. my comment was meant for mike

      September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Dee

      Mythology? uh huh. You have obviously not felt the hand of God. Open your heart and you might.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  6. msukpal

    When Jesus was born-all babies in the area were ordered to be killed.
    1.Jesus eventually was killed(crucified)
    2.After Jesus died, His followers were oppressed, persecuted, and hunted(Apostle Paul himself used to be a hunter of Christians)
    3.Paul and all of 12 apostles except ,of course, Judas were stoned, crucified, skinned, burned, axed and beheaded. Only John survived.
    4.William Tyndale who made the 1st English translation of the Bible was strangled and burned by the Catholic Church(the then religio-political government or the woman who rides the beast in the book of Revelation).
    Those are a few of countless examples of oppression against "born again" Christians and the Bible. Why?
    May be what the Bible says is true; that there is a dark force of unseen world who have from the beginning tried to stop Jesus's plan, this plan is to deliver the slaves to freedom using Himself as a ransom.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      The bible may indeed be true. Sad that there's nothing but the Bible itself to back up those claims. He should recant and save his skin. If he martyrs himself, he loses the only life he'll ever have. Sad.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Mike in NC

      Or maybe the bible is just a giant work of fiction written and re-written time over hundreds and hundreds of years and it does not tell us anything but what we want to take from it. Kind of like finding the hidden messages in Beatles songs.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      I guess we're supposed to trust a book full of inconsistencies for your first 3 mentions. Whereas we have recorded cases of christians torturing and murdering about 30-40k people during the inquisitions. Insanity breeds insanity.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • JDub

      A little history lesson... Judas was not stoned, he hung himself. John did not survive. He was beheaded. Peter was crucified upsidedown on a cross. If this man is willing to die for his belief in the Lord doesn't that say something. How many of you would be willing to die for claiming there is no God?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • fred

      Mike in NC
      Well I am not aware of anyone whos life was turned around by a Beatles hidden message. You are correct you will get out of the Bilbe exactly what you were looking for. Looking for lies you will certainly find them, looking for truth you will find it. You want to stay the same just as you are just keep doing what youve been doing.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • fred

      Ashrakay
      Wake up and stop with nonsense about a few thousand killed by Christians. That is a lie. The actual number is millions killed in the name of Christ by men who used the name of Christ to do their dirty work.
      Christians that actually follow the truth given by Christ do not kill in the manner you suggest. We are called to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbore as ourselves.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  7. POI

    While living in Russia, I had a Muslim friend convert to a Christian faith. In a nutshell, this guy's family and friends put a hit out on his life for his decision to change religions. Similarly, this pastor might be put to death because he won't convert to Islam. Two real-life examples why I love the USA!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • SeattleBorn

      If we don't fight to protect those freedoms here in the USA, what is happening in Iran may happen here as well.....

      September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Credenza

      Well said Poi.

      Actually in the last 150 years ATHEISTS have murdered more people because of faith than Religions have done in the whole past. I'll code them so I don't get the Bum's rush!

      Stal1n – Len1n – M@rx – Zh0u Enl@i – H0 Ch1 M1nh – Kru$chev – T1to – Mo@ T$e Tung – Ceau$escu – Mu$$olini..................

      September 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  8. Pwilson

    Is that what you call your cell mate?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  9. Keksi

    On who's side is Pat Robinson?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • gay republican

      Blacks leave the hateful dem anti christian crap and come home to herman cain

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  10. Brian

    Iran is a perfect example of the dangers of mixing church & state. They are anti-God.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Mike in NC

      So is America. Keep your zealotry out of our Politics!

      September 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  11. Hmmm

    I don't trust God people. It's not that I doubt your god as much as I doubt those who claim to speak for him. Keep your eyes on these God people....remember 9/11? Yea, those were god people too.

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

    The religion of peace strikes again.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  13. Hypocrisy

    We have no right to condemn any other country's conviction after executing Troy Davis.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Chris

      You are clueless...

      September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Hmmm

      That's not fair. We did it the humane way by putting him down like we would a dog. They will likely hang the pastor. This is just inhumane.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • gay republican

      Troy davis was an animal who murdered a cop

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

      The guy we executed was a MURDERER, not a PASTOR trying to practice his faith. Get a clue!!!

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

      Shut up.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Credenza

      Americans have a neat way of making something degrading and disgusting look "acceptable"

      Murdering prisoners by HUMANE methods. There's nothing humane in killing. Life in prison, yes; murder no. And when you do murder them it's more like a sporting event.

      Murdering / Aborting many of the 50 Million babies worldwide [and that's not counting Russia and China!] dressed up as PRO-CHOICE. Before you start any of your usual self-righteous hissy fits, look at ALL the 8 methods of abortion in detail – in technicolour, and tell me those bodies with heads, legs,arms and features are NOT babies.

      Murdering hundreds of Libyan civilians with your drones, masquerading as the ARAB SPRING. How can freedom for the Libyans be so called when you slaughter the population?

      So you are, indeed, hypocrites.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Fellow hypocrite

      Mr. Davis was tried by a jury of his peers. His conviction upheld by appellate courts. True, he may have been innocent, but his attorneys failed to prove his innocence or doubt of guilt. Based upon penal codes of law the judicial obligations of public trust placed in our government by "we the people" to punish individuals who break our laws. A commitment by our judicial system which we ourselves voted to obligate our judicial system to discharge, to protect the public. Again, humbly Mr. Davis may have very well have been innocent, but no doubt of guilt was ever performed to the satisfaction of the 12 juniors or a panel of appellate judges. This is in opposition to the individual in Iran which would be a miscarriage of justice.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  14. Johnny

    How retarded, to be christian or muslim. Personally I am Darwinian, so go nuts.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • collins61

      How wonderful. So, is Darwin responsible for our mass retardation? Thanks for putting up with us.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • fred

      So sorry to hear you want to lose your nuts

      September 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  15. skarphace

    This is what you get when you have a government that is not based on the separation of church and state.

    Do we really want to go down this road?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • WOW

      WAIT .. we (US) have this now????? Ban on gay marriage .. attempts to reverse laws free of religious ideals?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Aezell

      Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin do. The fact that these are popular candidates in the Republican party tells you a lot about the Republicans.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • skarphace

      Ok, WOW, let me rephrase: do we really want to go FURTHER down this road?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • collins61

      Gay marriage? Why does someone always attempt to correlate everything to gay marriage? Why don't you go to Iran and see how they deny gay marriages?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Credenza

      It's not about YOU, it's about a brave young man who is willing to die for his faith. That makes him a "One of a kind" in America!

      September 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Gayland

      Found out today I was GAY. Im sick.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  16. lora

    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.

    This world is so messed up.......just wait people ...it is not only christians that islam does not like!!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • gay republican

      Please vote herman cain and end all this liberal dem hate

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

      Lora, absolutely.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  17. Freethinksman

    It's unconscionable that a government would execute someone for believing in different nonsense than the official state-sanctioned nonsense. That being said, if a person can step out of the way of a moving bus, it is his responsibility to do so.

    Recant, you fool!

    Martyrdom is for sissies. I'll profess whatever spew you want if it will save my life. Heck, I'd admit to conversion if it would get me a better seat at a basketball game. I'll root for my team, have a couple of beers, and forget the whole "conversion" thing by the time the thrill of the court-side seats has worn off.

    I feel bad this guy is being asked to do something he doesn't want to do, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for him if he doesn't suck it up and save his skin.

    This is the only life we get. Give it up for something of consequence, but don't throw it away for for imaginary fluff!

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

      I won't. I will fight my government to the death if it abolishes the first amendment and tries to force all Americans to be Evangelicals. Forget martyrdom; I will fight and die for freedom.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • SeattleBorn

      Freethinksman,

      You obviously have no respect for the courage that this man is displaying by refusing to recant. Resistance to tyrants and brutal government regimes is obedience to God.

      One of the problems with this country is that men are weak and have been feminized to take the easy way out, instead of taking a stand for things and refusing to cave in even if life is made extremely difficult.

      I wonder if you can even stand up since you give me the impression you have no spine....

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • collins61

      You know nothing of Faith, of conviction, of towing the line. You are a yellow bellied crybaby who wets himself in submission. Religious zealots and atheists both despise you. At least a true Atheist would stick to his non belief. You, you roll over and dance at the first sign of confrontation. What do you stand for, aside from your own a $$?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • thatwagnerkid

      Something of substance... like better seats at a baseball game?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Dee

      Yah, let's have no backbone or belief system whatsoever in the face of terrorism/fanaticism. That should fix it

      September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  18. Human species

    hey.....its been great and all chattin with you guys.... but my workday is done...... Im outta here....... if you wanna believe in something crazy and supernatural..... you can believe in me..... Ill bless you..... especially if your hot!!!!!

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

      Ellipses, learn to use them correctly.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  19. Dee

    Once again fanaticism takes center stage and one individual is persecuted, and perhaps executed, for his beliefs. Perhaps we should have no religions in this crazy world of ours. Perhaps we should all simply not pray and have no vocal outlet of our praise for our Higher Being. Let's just shut down all churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.... Let's keep all the fanatics happy.

    No-one, but no-one, will ever stop me from saying "Merry Christmas". NO-ONE! Does that make me a fanatic? No. That makes me a person who loves her Christ.

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

      Happy Hanukkah!

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

      Good for you, Sweetheart! Bless you.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  20. Tee

    Why can't the USA worry about their own problems without trying to dictate how other countries should be?

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

      Tee, that's an incredibly immature comment. Perhaps you should read some historical books about USA involvement in world matters.

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

      SHUTUP

      September 29, 2011 at 7:41 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.