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. Fr33th1nk3r

    Christians = Muslims. Not much of a difference......Muslims are trying to stamp out everything but Islam in their countries, and Christians are trying to stamp out non-believers and anything but Christianity in the countries they hold a majority in. Christians will tell you they are better because they don't support global terrorism, but that is because they mostly exist in nations that execute their opporession using aircraft carriers and their military, while Muslims lack those advantages and have to resort to more desperate means. You can bet, if Christiantiy and Islam switched places, Christians would be every bit as bloodthirsty as their middle-eastern counterparts. Imagine if people like Michelle Bachman, Kent Hovind, or Pat Robertson had their way, and there was no such thing as separation of church from state to hold them back from brainwashing our children, persecuting non-believers like they did in medieval times, and turning our country into a Christian oligarchy.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  2. michael

    hmmmm i seem to remember that there was a time when christians killed those who would not convert....and i seem to remember christians blowing up abortion clinics with people inside....or preist raping children....so should we not trust christians???? hmmmm no there are good and bad in all religons.
    blessed be

    September 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  3. Mikej

    Did Mohammed really exist? Maybe it is all a figment of our imaginations. Is that why we cannot draw him because he didn't exist. Am I really here. Is this discussion really happening. Help. I am drowning in the ignorance I read. I am done with these silly forums.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Alborz

      Did Jesus had blond hair and blue eyse, as we see his picture in most Churches?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  4. bbbbq234

    christians are like those kids that wear helmets and go on field trips to the park

    September 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  5. video916

    There will always be believers and non-believers...but only believers will have life after death.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      And only people who believe in Santa get gifts. Don't tell us you still believe that one?!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      or so they believe.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • adam

      So true.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • bbbbq234

      yess and we only get allowance if we eat our veggies..christians are soooooo smart

      September 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • video916

      I guess we'll all find out one day. If there is no Heaven after I die, at least I led a good life. Yet what about when you find out there is a heaven and realize it's too late?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @ video
      I'm not sure what you mean by saying that only believers will have life after death..... Yes, only believers will have LIFE, but every human being has eternal soul. Those without Christ will live eternally in DEATH, where their souls will NEVER die. There are false teachings out there which claim that those without Christ will just burn up and perish. This is NOT what Christ Jesus thought, and is not according to the Word of God.
      I just want to make sure to clarify any misunderstanding some may have!

      September 30, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  6. helensky

    why has god never ever ever ever healed an amputee???

    September 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • John in Seattle

      Read Luke 22:49-51. When Jesus was arrested before his crucifixion one of his disciples cut off some guy's ear. The Bible says Jesus healed and restored the guy.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Why has jesus never ever ever ever healed an amputee in modern times?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Credenza

      Jesus, through His Mother Mary cured a man at the shrine in Lourdes years ago. The man had part of his intestines replaced; a small metal plate in his skull and was paralyzed.
      After going into the baths he was taken back to the hospital. He toldmy aunt [a voluteer carer on the ward] that he felt like walking. 10 minutes later – he did.
      When given a thorough exam by doctors they found his skull was intact -no plate; his intestines were normal and his spina; paralysis was gone.

      Before you start. When very sick cases went to Lourdes they were examined before and after going to Lourdes by 3 doctors [ 1 Catholic, one 'other' religion and one non-believer -at least 2 of which did not want to proclaim a miracle ] Jack Trainer was proclaimed a miracle.

      September 30, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • jHotAirAce

      From the wiki article about the Lourdes Medical Bureau "Occasionally cases are dismissed by the Medical Bureau but still attain a level of fame and notoriety. One example is that of Jack Traynor."

      This suggests that not only can you not spell, but that you are also full of shit.

      September 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  7. Bob D

    I couldn't find a mention of this in Al Jazeera.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  8. Bob D

    Christianity is repellant, but Islam is worse. Yet another exercise in depravity from a trash country.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  9. Steph

    This is totally outrageous. The Iranian government is not even following the Koran in bringing this man to trial. I admire him for refusing to recant his beliefs

    September 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  10. renee

    Words to live by-love your enemies. May God bless Pastor Nadarkhani.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      Love your enemies: sweet, but dopey.
      Smarter: beware of your enemies and take protective action.

      The enemy: a freezing cold night. Do you love the cold, or do you put on warmer clothes? Or turn up the heat?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      @Mark Yelka, How dare you bring logic into this?!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      To LOVE your enemies does NOT mean to float around dopey and starry eyed, smiling in the face of your enemy. This is the picture the washed out , superficial ( TBN style) Christianity has impressed on minds of those who don't have any idea what real Christianity is about. You associate it to the pictures of smiling "Jesus" walking with the crowds which they portray in their "Jesus"movie flicks...But the reality is, Jesus never went around smiling, joking and entertaining the crowds, He never pated His enemies on the shoulder and buried with them. He knew what was in their hearts, and dealt with them accordingly. You will never see Jesus in no instances smooth talking to the pharisees, but always exposing what is in them. Jesus only had comforting words for those whose hearts were tender, and open to the truth.
      We are to do the same, as He did.
      So then how do we deal with our enemies? We discern in the Spirit who they are, seeing them as God sees them, human beings who are lost and in need. We do not hate them, desiring evil for them, but try to help them if any way it would be for us possible to help them, showing that we do it because we care for them, and their well being, but above all things we need to pray for them, that God will open their eyes.
      But this does not mean that we should PRETEND that they are NOT our enemies, and be naively trusty toward them. Nor should we have any dealings with them, unless God shows us that they are His lost sheep, and we should lead them to Him.... But I'm aware that many of you here will not understand things I'm saying ......

      There are so many misconceptions in minds of people about Christianity, it's embarrassing! These blogs really show how so many misunderstand it. But what's so interesting to see, how so many like to think of themselves as knowledgeable, revealing their lack of understanding by labeling us, Christians as "dumb sheep" without mind of our own. LOL! I think much more could be said about that, even about the display of "dumb sheep" characteristics, but I don't think it's profitable to waste words nor time....
      Good night to all!

      September 29, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      P.S. Correction
      He never pated His enemies on the shoulder and buddied with them

      September 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  11. icy

    if this was someone gay getting persecuted every tom dick and harry would be jumping to his defense but because is a christian gasp, it is ok ???????????? give me a break where are all the hollywood bigwigs that fight for everyone other right imaginable under the sun ?????????????

    September 29, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • dave

      well said and you are so right...they only speak out in hollywood if it in the support of depravity

      September 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Credenza

      @Dave – Yep! YOU got that right, Sir. Hollywood – a cesspool covered with a veneer of glitter and lights.

      September 30, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  12. Carlos Arroyo

    So, where is god?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  13. Jon Hausrath

    While I'm not ready to believe even Iran will actually kill this pastor, I am still appalled. Christianity shares many views with Islam, not the least of which is a firm belief of Good and Evil. Why would an ostensibly religious society commit such outright Evil? I think Iran needs to take a good look at itself as a nation and realize that the world is watching–and Iran is part of a larger world, despite it's posturing–it is subject to just as much temptation to war and Evil that it claims to be against. This is a global world we live in and Iran needs to play a larger part–and for Good! I'm not saying there cannot be Iranian Patriots, indeed, that is the CENTAL ISSUE. Iran needs PATRIOTS! It needs people looking out for their country and not be influenced so much by it's neighbors. If Iran doesn't want to go down in history as the weakest political and spiritual PAWN of EVIL, it will get itself in order. Islam is a great religion, Iran must adhere to it's values, not flagrantly violate them. I will continue on a tangent. Nuclear power is foolish, as well. Iran needs to realize it is not a good power play. It is dangerous to humanity. The entire peninsula should be nuclear-free. And the path to a nuclear-free peninsula is not for Iran play into a war-posturing, malevolent world. Lead by example. Let shame be felt by war-mongers. Worship God. Do not try to go against Nature with unnatural nuclear energy. That is not the path of Righteousness! Goodness is simple: be kind and just. Respect Christianity, Jesus is a divine prophet by Islamic standards, is he not? Don't shoot a messenger of a messenger. This is a global village and there is a global struggle for peace. Iran needs to understand if it simply waits and has faith and takes a posture of peace, TIME is on the side of Iran and PEACE will come easily. I have tried to make my point in language they will recognize, and I pray that peace and justice will be seen as one and the same...

    September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Jerk182

      Your comment was too short.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  14. Carlos Arroyo

    So, where is god??

    September 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Mark Yelka


      September 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Lou

      God died with Cecil B Demille.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Cecilia

      In your own heart, if you're willing to look.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • CuriousAboutStuff

      I consider it an awesome question, that you've asked 🙂 and feeling that you may be ready for the answer;

      I pray to God on your behalf and in the name of Jesus, that He reveal Himself to you.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Ingrid

      IF, this good man is executed for his faith He will go directly to be with God. What does God have to worry about. Where is God... Up there watching, and recording. Seeing if there is yet Faith on the earth. It's the faithful who are called on to Remember those who are in prison unjustly. The believers are called to pray for them. Do you understand any of this? If you've never read the Bible this probably is hard to understand. The believers Know God Is. That He is All Wise and All Powerful, and knows what is best for this our Iranian Pastor. We will pray and trust God's will. You should too.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  15. Mark Yelka

    The Liliputians. The religion. All the same. People living and dying over a fable. Insecure people willing to believe anything.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  16. sarah

    Do the Iranians not realize that by killing this one man many more will convert? They will be hindering their own efforts by executing him. Martyrs only produce more of their kind, more will be added to the faith if the Iranian government follows through with this. It is a win-win for this faithful christian man: if he lives then justice has been done and an innocent life is preserved, if he dies his death will only mean the growth of the faith his willing to die for.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Shhh

      Don't give the Iranians a clue – – –

      September 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  17. bikemonkey

    So much hatred of non muslims in islam. A trully evil religion. Damn them all to hell.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  18. TruthHurts

    Religion is for the fickle minded.

    Clearly Iran is full of those.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  19. Derrique Stuckey

    C'mon, Obama. Freedom of religion is NOT universal. It's unfortunate, and we know it's campaign season, but unless he takes refuge in a non-Muslim stronghold, there will be nothing we can do for he and his family. You're trying to reason with primates the same way you asked Gaddafi to 'step down'. They're just going to ridicule and laugh, so you may as well save your energy for the economy. We're going to need it.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  20. Al-dinero

    Yes a radical government will most likely kill this man, but this doesn't dismiss the fact that it is a radical muslim government. Although people may try to say it's not right to generalize, we Americans have aright to feel cautious & not trusting of muslims. It's just instinct and natural.....

    September 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • al dinero

      thats retarded. just because of one radical government thats muslim should mean that the US should not trust any muslims??? its because of thoughts like this our world is so messed up today..

      September 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • humberto

      Executing anyone who follows a man, that was executed on a cross because he did no wronge to anyone is not a simple matter –

      September 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Shhh

      Maybe it's the liberal lack of conviction that's messed up our world. Ya' gotta pick a side, al. Then you have to stand by your conviction. Muslims do this well. Us? Not so much.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      So, if the possible death of one christian (who is not a US citizen) is sufficient to justify Americans not trusting islam, what is the appropriate reaction by muslims to the invasion by the US of a country or two?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • humberto

      Its about, who has the right to punish a person to death for an oath to God ?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Are you really saying this man's life is more important than the 1,000's who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (on both sides), because he believes in a fairy tale?!?!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:14 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.