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. JoJo06

    There will never be enough blood to slake the thirst of our Loving Creator!

    September 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • NW1000

      You sound like a nut.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm |


    September 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  3. ruemorgue

    What's worse than a non-believer to Islamic Fascists? Easy, an ex-believer, aka, an apostate, one who deliberately rejected the *light* !!! Sickos.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  4. Recovering Catholic

    Thank you Mr. Nadarkhani. Count yourself among the greatest of humanity. Would that your life could bring sight to American Christians.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  5. Hmmm

    Thank God I'm an atheist.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Dave

      And you'd be put to death in Iran for that too....

      September 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Tom

      number 2 nut. I will pray for both of you

      September 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  6. ml9685

    how anyone can fall hook, line, and sinker for any religion is amazing..i am 25..the generation which birthed me and my piers are idiots..no offense..but they are clueless..as the ones who birthed them, ect..but hey that one generation about 2,000 years ago had all the answers

    September 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Recovering Catholic

      Piers? What was your mother, a tug boat?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • MrZummo

      But of course you have all the answers. You're a bigger idiot than you relize Sr.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • sharkfisher

      I can only feel pity for anyone that has no faith in anyone or any thing. For anyone that has no where to seek comfort when things go bad and they are all alone.This man of GOD in Iran has the comfort of Jesus the living Son of God and it will sustain him.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  7. weemees

    Obama is so right. This is an outrage. No freedom in Iran.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • darkhorse84

      A blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.

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

      All the blind squirrel need to do now is find the other nut so he can actualy have the cojones to lead this country instead of being a cluless espectator.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  8. O.T.

    It's a tragedy for the world that the Middle East is not civilized.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Patricksday

      Regardless of the Religion, they are Cavemen in suits and ties. And should NOT be leading a country.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  9. mark

    so he could save his life by recanting? and he grew up there, so he kinda knows what kind of people his own people are right? so he did something he knows he will be put to death for and is not taking the way out. ok. i'm not saying i think they country doesn't seem a little horrible to me...but that would be like me going to texas and killing wimmin and kids and telling everyone i'm a democrat. just seems strange...

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

      Mark, you are an idiot wrapped up in a moron

      September 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Ralphie

      "his own people?" When the Westboro Baptist Church pickets a soldier's funeral, we don't say he shoulda known what his people are like, we say the're extremist whackos. The average Iranian thinks the same of the religious police in Iran.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Lefty

      "Wimmin"? Your spellchecker must have given up on you.

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

    I am amused at most of the comments posted on this issue. Instead of bringing out suggestions on how to aid this man most people are merely arranging their religious prejudices. Who cares if you don't believe in God or if you believe in Him. Let's wake up to the reality of life and know that what goes around comes around.

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

      Two kinds of internet commentors on CNN..

      Idiots and people Responding to idiots.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • MrZummo

      Tarron you are imbecil. Get off the computer and Go back and play with your blocks.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  11. pod

    People should be having a total fit over this – this dude is possibly going to die for something as simple as believing in something (why it's being done is another topic). Yet, when someone does a horrible, terrible crime they're up in arms about capital punishment being used.

    Also – check out his "mug shot" – this guy is content. Quite a contrast to those peoples expressions who commit major @ss crimes.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  12. michael

    I am a wiccan...I believe we all have the right to believe what we will...there is radicals in every belief system from christians who blow up abortion clinics to stop murder, to Muslims who kill people for being christian...you all argue over words in a book that you make irrelevant by acting the way you do...at the end of the day we are all human weather we are witches,christians, Muslims,or what ever else is out there. Merry we meet;merry we part.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Mikey

    I'm an atheist to whom your comment makes zero sense. I support your right to believe any damned thing you like as long as you don't force it on me or the rest of society. What the mullahs want to do to this man is wrong, whether I believe it or not. Those who want to force Christianity on America are equally wrong.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  14. Giavur

    To DreWhite.

    With their multiple wives and the birth rate which they have, wait for a little to multiply a bit more. Then come and tell me how peaceful their religion is and if you still would like to see a Mosque in Manhattan. The wolves are always looking towards the forest. Write this down and never forget it.

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

      how you conveniently forget the birth of christians in asia and africa and of christian zealots in america itself.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  15. 6nonymous

    LOL! America murders hundreds of thousands of people for no reason, tries to sweep the bodies under the rug and find someone to blame, and THEN criticizes other countries? LOL! It must be all those lead-based toys you kids have been chewing on, because that's just retarded!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • gay republican

      Idiot liar, liberal trash

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

      Gay republican, you should move away from the mirror. You keep shouting 'idiot' to your image.

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

      Gay repub your daddy is george bush and he killed hundreds of thousands cause his god told him to, just ask him.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  16. ad

    @Xtians. yea, I was just wondering whether msukpal knows.

    from the looks of it, he is a korean/indian christian with the zeal to convert to entire world. i wonder what he will do after that.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  17. HZ

    It's funny how many people say the Koran (Quran) doesn't say bad things. I read it and it says Jews and others who don't believe should be killed but it's also acceptable to lie to them and use them because they aren't really people. I'm not saying all muslims are 'bad people'... but don't kid yourselves into thinking that book is harmless.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • ad

      I guess you believe that the torah and the bible themselves are very gentle about non-believers.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  18. Terry

    Iran persecution of this pastor is fundamentally anti Islamic,
    as the Koran states there is no compulsion in religion.
    People are free to worship as they please in a
    true Islamic state but there are none today,just a bunch
    claiming to be so while running authoritarian regimes.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  19. Walker

    Until the U.S. does away with capital punishment, they have no standing to protest another county's use of it.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • HZ

      In a world where Syria can be on the UN committe for human rights, the US certainly does have a great deal of moral authority.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  20. JDub

    If this man is willing to die in the name of the Lord then doesn't that say something? He has nothing to lose. How many of you would be willing to die for your claims that there is no God? You have nothing to lose taking your life upon the Fathers way. There is no reason other than your selfish ignorant pride to otstracize those who believe.

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

      How about no one dies? Yea, I like that idea. Let's not kill each other. Sounds grand. I'm pretty old and haven't kill anyone yet. Great work by me. I will not pat myself on the back. Now If I can just get the rest of these idiots to stop killing each other.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Texan

      Very true JDub. Love all the CNN trolls that post their atheist nonsense. Hmmm – problem is, you are going to die whether someone kills you or not. Better consider what happens next.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • pod

      I'm with Hmmm on this – And JDub, that statement doesn't make much sense. Most civilized folks are interested in finding out what THIS current life has to offer and probably share the feeling that once it's done, you don't get another ride like, so WHY take a chance (i know...you'll have your "faith" rebuttal) and rush in the inevitable, especially if you're having a good time in life? And if there's someone who doesn't believe in God, I seriously doubt they'd die for that stance- that is the main part of your comment that just plain doesn't make sense.

      For those that think heroin, coke and any of those other gnarly drugs are strong, try a good dose of religion – like the drugs, there are many flavors and many will also get you killed. (imagine seeing a sign on a marquee outside a church with that on it!)

      September 29, 2011 at 8:18 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.