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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. Darin

    It's too bad we forget about persecuting our Muslim brothers and sisters in the United States who have received religious persecution as individuals, as a culture, and religiously from Christians and Atheists, and I am sure others as well. For example, do we remember the hype and hysteria that occurred when a mosque was going to be built close to ground zero in NYC? I forget if that ever came to pass...I certainly hope it did. We must remember that we must remove the plank out of our eye before we complain about the speck in another's eye.

    However, I do hope that this pastor doesn't get executed, and if he does his death should not be forgotten or pushed to the side. Can't we all just get along? -wise words

    September 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Hamid

      Thank you- most people do not understand what crap feeling it is to be a muslim. I do what good I can. When we cook, we always take a meal to my neighbor who is 80 and believes in no God and also to my other old neighbor who is deeply Christian. My mother in law is a reborn Christian and when she lost her job, I had her live in my house for 2 years. I run a cub scout and run my meetings in a Church. I am so sad to live amongst so much hate for all of us as a group for the actions of a few idiots!

      September 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Credenza

      It was insensitive of Muslims to even suggest building a Mosque at Ground Zero, wasn't it really? A bit 'in your face?' However the rest of your post was sincere and Irespect it as such.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  2. Casey

    or maybe all you Atheist are fools... yeah that's it.

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

      Yes, we must be. How dare we ask for evidence before we believe in something. Shame on us all!

      September 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Credenza

      @Hmmm – You say you want evidence before you accept anything? Well, in the last 150 years, Atheists have murdered more people , particularly Christians, in the history of the planet.

      Why would they kill people for having something there was no EVIDENCE for Hmmm..................? Unbalanced, I'd say! Not logical at all! And they take such PRIDE in being logical.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  3. Pyrrho

    I would expect all Muslims living in non Muslim countries that respect the Muslim's right to their own religious beliefs to be up in arms about this.

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

      haha you expect a lot...

      September 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Pyrrho

      Mark: That was a satirical expect. I would be very suprised to hear any significant number of Muslims condeming the "sharia" law of Muslim countries. Perhaps out of fear and hopefully not because they believe shariah law comes before the laws of the country they are living in.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  4. Mackenzie

    Religion is the root of all evil.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Hmmm

      I would say religion is the root of all evil because I don't think there is a root of all evil. But man, religion is sure giving it one hell of a try.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Hmmm

      *Wouldn't*

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

      Interesting. I believe people wanting power are the root of all evil.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Credenza

      @Jamie – Well said.

      As for religion being the so-called root of all evil, it is the ABUSE of religion by people using it for their own ends that is evil. The religion is OK. Don't confuse the two.

      When all you Americans were bitterly complaining about sending aid to the starving in Africa because , as you whined, "We should be spending our money on us not THEM!!!" It was Christian and other religious organizations organizations that were out there doing all the work. And thank God for every one of them.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  5. lb

    stay strong, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, you are in our prayers.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  6. ad

    they came the same place as your messiah.. funny isn't it

    September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  7. Giavur

    Ask the Assyrians, the Armenian,s the Greek and other minorities of Turkey. They were all wiped out in the name of Islam. Millions of Christians were exterminated while their Churches were converted to Mosques. Wake up Americans.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • ad

      and you conveniently forget the fact Christians completely annihilated buddhists/hindus in asia, destroyed latin america. ofcourse, europe itself wasn't christian till 400 A.D.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  8. barbara

    Doesn't that mean that we can arrest all Muslims in the country and threaten to execute them if they don't convert to Christianity?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Hmmm

      No. This is not a theocracy.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  9. LJ

    So let me get this straight – the US has a "committee" to monitor religious freedoms around the world and condemns a religious state for executing one of its citizens for going against their religion and statehood? Isn't that their perogative? Their religion states that they should kill all infidels. So with that said, isn't Iran just exercising its religious practice? This is the exact reason why religion needs to be done away with....

    September 29, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Hmmm

      While I do agree, I don't see religion disappearing any time soon. People really like the idea that when they die that they don't really have to die.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Hamid

      No, because that is a human rights issue. As a muslim, what Iran is doing is disgusting. There is nothing in Islam that states you should kill a man that does not believe. Most muslim countries are not tolerant of people who preach other religions in a Islamic State, but nothing in Islam states you should kill a Christian because he would not convert. Actually, if the idiots in Iran would just stop and understand their own religion, It tells them that this is a religion for those who choose to accept and you are only a Muslim if you have the faith in your heart. It does not work the way of the idiots converting someone with the edge of a dull sword.
      I am sorry that so many stupid people have taken over my religion.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Pyrrho

      Hamed: Are you telling me that non Muslims that convert to Islam and then change their minds are not under a death sentence?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      @Pyrrho, Yes, it's in the Quran.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  10. Ben

    I have a long-term solution to idiotic problems like this. Eliminate religion.

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

      Or eliminating people would be a better solution to stop this.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  11. DreWhite

    This is why there are different nations. This is why globalism will never work. This is what makes America shine, because we are free to practice any religion. Which is why I was for a mosque being built in Manhatten. Not because I would attend,but because its what makes the United States free. We the people must protect these freedoms whenever they are threatened. But,America has started chipping away at our freedoms and liberties since 9/11. Google...Illinois Man Faces Life In Jail For Recording Police America has become very hypocritical.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  12. me

    Red herring: "Christians used to be just as bas 1,000 years ago".
    Absurd overgeneralization: "America does some bad things to, so what's the big deal?"

    September 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  13. Ashrakay

    Where are all of the republicans now that were so eager to bomb Iran and probably would have killed several people just like this guy in collateral damage?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  14. Alborz

    All religions are the any of humanity. They brain wash and control the weak minds to achieve their interests. If people like ayatollah, pope, and pastor John heggy are going to heaven, I will have a great doubt the God they serve.

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

      The weak minds are fools like you get a life troll

      September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  15. Peter

    Just bomb the towel heads back to hell from whence they came, simple solution!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Alborz

      is this your idea of having peace with other nations who are different than ours?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  16. Abdullah

    The Holy Qur'an says: "There is no compulsion in religion." 2:256. The Iranian government does not represent the Muslim World and is giving Islam a bad name. Islam is very clear when it comes to freedome of religious beliefs.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      Islam gets a bad name... not from theory, but from practice. The Islamists are not stopping the bad practices.

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

      Mohammed preached a few "nice" verses when he was powerless.. When he became powerfull his true colors came shining through.. They were horrific.. The colors of death, destruction, terror, pedophilia, and mass murder... This is why Islam must be reformed or eradicated.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Alborz

      I think you are talking about the Govrnment of Saudi Arabia, not Iran. Iran has over 100,000 christians. How many Christians are living in Saudi Arabia?? Zero

      September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Joe98

      Islam says there is no compulsion in religion.

      Islam also says that once a muslim you must always be a muslim.

      The punishment for leaving islam is death. If he was ever a muslim they are following islamic law correctly.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      Great how you point out that one verse but skip over the others that recommend dying in conflict for your faith or how those who aren't muslim deserve no sympathy. Quran (2:191-193) "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]... but if desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah."

      September 29, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Answer

      All the religions will end up fighting themselves to the death. That is the best thing that could happen.
      Just make sure you dimwits kill off everyone of yourselves. Thank you.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  17. krehator

    No compulsion in Islam? Shyeeeah right.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  18. Kyle

    Didn't the Iranian leader say that Iran was a model for the world to follow? Then this happens a week later. Hypocrisy is alive and well. This kind of oppression is sickening. I know that there are plenty of people in world who have problems with the US, but at least we guarantee citizens freedom of religion. I really do hope that this pastor is able to survive this ordeal without compromising his values.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • JLS639

      It was not a week later. The trial was back last November, almost a year ago.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Kyle

      My mistake, this the first I've heard of it

      September 29, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  19. BG

    What's up at the Vanderbilt Muslim Student Association? Well, let's see !

    http://www.westernyouth.org/articles/muslim-student-adviser-death-penalty-for-gays/

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

      http://www.msanational.org/about

      What a crock of shít, Vandy.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • gay republican

      Muslims murder gays, I hope we blow u ALL UP

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

      Yep. I did that. Oh well. Sorry.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • gay republican

      Now im REAL MAD, U MUSLIMS WORSHIP ALLAH THE DEVIL, OUR GODS NAME IS JAHOVAH THE ALMIGHTY AND OUR SAVIOR IS JESUS CHRIST, READ THE BIBLE MUSLIMS AND ASD GOD TO LET U FEEL HIS HOLY SPIRIT AND U WILL KNOW GREAT BEAUTY AND U WILL KNOW THE HOLY BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD NOT THE QURAN

      September 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  20. msukpal

    1.When Jesus was born-all babies in the area were ordered to be killed.
    2.Jesus eventually was killed(crucified)
    3.After Jesus died, His followers were oppressed, persecuted, and hunted(Apostle Paul himself used to be a hunter of Christians)
    4.Paul and all of 12 apostles except ,of course, Judas were stoned, crucified, skinned, burned, axed and beheaded. Only John survived.
    5..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 7:34 pm |
    • Hmmm

      The dudes got God on his side. How can anyone thwart a plan made by the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving(who sends you to hell) creator? The entire bible is silly and boring. Redemption by human sacrifice? Before that, animal and other sacrifices? God is basically writing his own heroic tale where he comes in at the end and saves the day. We are just pawns in this game.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      Or maybe it's all made-up nonsense. And, when you try to live by nonsense, almost anything can happen. Religion is mostly about mind control, money, and power. It is framed in fairy tales.

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

      any idea why christians invaded foreign lands in the first place?

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

      ummmm....the inquisition?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Sean

      'When Jesus was born-all babies in the area were ordered to be killed.' Where do you go and hear this non sense. Are there snake handlers there too? Do they speak gibberish and call it tongues? Wow, all Jewish babies were killed when Jesus was born. No where is this written in the KJ bible. Which for the record, was compiled 1500-1600 years after Jesus died!

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

      Religion binds you an imprisons you, but a relationship with God almighty set you free.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
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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.