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. JAB

    There is no such thing as religious freedom, even in the USA, and religion is never tolerant. Apostasy like blasphemy are victimless crimes. Imagine being put to death for a victimless crime?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Ken

      There is religious freedom in the United States. The government has no authority over anyones religious beliefs and no one would ever be arrested for exercising their beliefs or lack of belief and they definitely would never face execution for it.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  2. Sylvestor Johnson

    There has to be more to this story. We are only given one side. We need to know what this man did, what is he charged with. This article doesn't do it.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Brathead

      He is charged with Apostasy.. He refuses to convert from Christianity to Islam. That is the crime

      September 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Sylvestor Johnson

      No, it has to be something else. There are 100s of thousands of christians in Iran. There is more to this.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Chris

      Iranians are allowed to be Christian if it is part of their heritage, but Muslims are not allowed to convert to Christianity. I believe this is what the pastor is charged with. He has been charged with leaving Islam and converting to Christianity.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  3. Seth

    I'm no Christian, but I fully support his right to believe as he does and that the Iranians are perpetuating an injustice upon his rights as a human being. That said, I find the discussion about this to be enlightening. Some atheists here to attack, some Christians trotting out the tired old "religion of peace" thing, and a little back and forth about abiogenesis (they have tested this in a lab successfully but it needs much more work, in case you're wondering). If the hand of a creator plays a role or not is tangential to this conversation though; humans should be free to believe what they choose, whether that's some form of religion or none at all... being judgmental without listening to one another only adds to the animosity and intransigence. Be nice and considerate, don't be pushy or angry... be supportive of each other. That's often the single thread that ties all religions (and atheists) together.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  4. Ismeal

    allah can't do his dirty work himself? In the HOLY BIBLE God said vengence is mine so he can take care of himself when insulted and does not subscribe to be served with forced laborers

    September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Brathead

      You make absolutely no sense.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  5. swrenk

    My heart goes out to the preacher, but we have little credibility when we kill our own, even then there is doubt about their guilt.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  6. Dan

    This might already have been mentioned, but just IMAGINE the outcry from Muslims if the situation were reversed. (and no, I would not suggest that we do that.)

    September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • hippypoet

      why not do that, i'm not saying we really kill anyone , but make it look like we will... get the point across much faster that way. just an idea!

      September 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  7. logic

    Ah the Religion of peace, If you are born into this Religion of Peace, If you try to convert to anything else



    once you are born into to this cult if you try to leave they WILL KILL YOU according to THEIR HOLY BOOK.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Brian

      Please do not equate religion and state. What state does is not fault of the religion. Your statement here unfairly place blame on Islam.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Name*bigwes

      Honestly....logic tells me the muslim religion is the worship of satan...just a thought.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Steve

      Yes you are right, this is the right face of islam, if you are born as a muslim, you do not have the choice to convert to any other religion. This is what he paying the price for. please do not tell me islam, koran etc teaches something else. I have read koran and Hadith, it is there, that you cannot convert, if you convert you be with the haram...please correct me if I am wrong.

      Islam will be a 1400 year old religion, STOP the spread of islam, its a deadly virus, and there is no medication for this virus.



      September 29, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    "The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom" THATS AN OXI-MORON, here i'll explain – the us has banned any religious practice it doesn't like – for instance, hoo doo, the killing of a chicken, now the animal saciface must be bought at a market... the mormons, used to be able to marry many times without getting rid of the first wife, now the us gov. have made it a crime to practice mutli wife style – unless your state or town makes a separate law allowing it...much like the pot laws – fed – illegal, state-pending... this country has no real care over religion as long as those in power agree with the practices. the U.S. of A. has no place in making statements about the rights of others who are not citizens of the U.S., further more, if the rights of the person were placed in danger the U.S. would only care if the gov. gets something out of it!
    As the most at war nation on the planet – no other nation goes into a FULL war every 20 years like us- we now are trying to appear as humanists , thats a joke! we started this country by killing the natives and now we keep at it by killing the natives of other countries, good times.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i meant to say the animal saciface must be bought at a market dead already... it was the act of killing that was disagreeible by someone...funny huh, and ironic, oo oo oo its also hypocrical.. and yes, i can't spell, get over it, listen to the point and now how its spelt.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Meki60

      Okay, you convinced me, lets' make Islam illegal in the USA.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Brathead

      If you dislike the USA so much, then why are you here?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • hippypoet


      you have missed my point, we as us citizens have no place telling others how to live and die.

      by making anything illegal you brand it, it will never be the same not matter if it becomes legal again, much like booze!

      September 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Dan

      You have some of the most peculiar ideas I've ever heard. I just can't understand how anyone could think like you do.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • hippypoet


      its not that i dislike the country of my birth, its that i know what we have done.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  9. Cando

    The point to this artical is not the existance or non-existance of God or a god, or gods. The focus is persecution for a persons religious beliefs and the schizophrenic values and behaviour of the repressive Muslim clerics that rule Iran.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • CJP

      That's right. Why do the atheists always gravitate to these message boards to espouse their hate ideology. The article is about a Christian being executed for his beliefs. Then the atheists go on a religion bashing rant!

      September 29, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  10. Ken

    I pray that God will protect him for standing up for his belief in Jesus Christ and not backing down in the face of execution at the hands of these Fundamentalist Muslims.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • aubrie

      Execution? Wouldn't this make him a martyr in christian eyes?? I would think that the Muslims would HATE that and avoid it at all costs...

      September 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Nick

    It's obvious many of you are missing the point. You're wasting time arguing about whether there is or isn't a God. The point of this article is to show that a country is planning to execute a man simply because he refuses to believe as they do. We enjoy the freedoms, as expressed in this comment section, to disagree, to not believe in anything, and not to be executed for a lack of belief or a belief in something else. We enjoy that freedom, this pastor does not. He's on trial for his life. How about we quit arguing about what we believe and just hope and pray if you so choose that humanity and decency will win out over in Iran.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  12. stu

    The above photo of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani says a thousand words about his character, all of them being good.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  13. Joseph1266

    Here's what I want to know:
    1. Do Muslims believe that only Muslims (those of the Islamic faith) can go to heaven?
    2. Do Muslims believe that all non-believers (not of the Islamic faith) are infidels?
    3. Do Muslims consider Jesus to be an infidel?
    4. Is it true that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared jihad (holy war) against the infidels of the world?
    5. Do Muslims believe that by killing an infidel, they are assured a place in heaven?
    6. Is it true that all Muslims have been commanded to kill all infidels (non-believers)?

    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ken

      I don't know all the answers to your questions, but I will make this comment. Only a false belief has to enforce that belief through the threat of terror, beatings and murder. They know it will not stand on it's own merit.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • J

      Most of your questions could be answered with a simple research, however I will tell you that they believe Jesus to have been a prophet and highly respect him along the Virgin Mary and Joseph.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Delusion FTL

      Lets just start with this: Since there is no head of Islam the religion and doctrine vary by area. Local Islamic leaders (both in government and in civilian) generally are the authority and lead their local populations however they choose. Not terribly different than protestant Christianity which also varies substantially in doctrine and behaviors. As a result there are no absolutes to your question, so i will attempt to answer for the majority or common belief
      1. Yes
      2. Generally yes, but it's more specific usually to those who have ignored or rejected Muhammad, Allah and/or the Qur'an
      3. No, they reject his divinity as God, and reject him being the son of God, but believe he was a prophet and that he wasn't actually crucified, an imposter was.
      4. Most? No. Many? Yes. The Qur'an itself is specific about fighting the infidels but different leaders label infidels and qualify reasons to fight them differently.
      5. Generally yes, although heaven in the Qur'an is mostly descriptive for what benefits it gives men, which is probably why most female suicide bombers are forced into their role rather than chose it.
      6. A strict interpretation of the Qur'an would say yes, but there are exemptions and other considerations. Normally they are not instructed to kill first, usually they are instructed to offer them to keep their lives if they convert. If not, then either kill, or subjugate and force to pay a humiliation tax to Islam.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  14. ari


    this is what happens when a country becomes an "islamic republic".

    let's hope that the iranian people someday manage to overthrow these theocratic despots.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  15. buddget

    Way to go Islam, way to go

    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Rachel

    This is nothing new, Bahai's (and people of other faiths) have been persecuted, jailed and had their rights taken away in Iran for years and years.... it's sad but it's not news. Google Mona Mahmudnizhad.


    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  17. james

    How afraid Iran's leadership must be to to single out one person who espresses his own beliefs. Once people in Iran wake up from their idiosy, they will demand an uprising similar to Egypt, Libya, Syria, et. al.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  18. Conner

    While I would condemn any action like this based solely on religious beliefs I completely disagree that it is not a "universal right" to have religiious freedom... You religious wackjobs made the bed and now everybody has to sleep in it. Thanks for making your myths an integral part of society. It is really, really helping... REALLY helping...

    September 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Dan

      Well, I can't agree with you too much, but let me make this point anyway ; instead of sarcastically telling us it's " REALLY helping", why don't you take some time to think of something that really MIGHT actually help ?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  19. Bo

    To my fellow believers: As I thought of this one man who is an example for us, my thoughts driffed back to the millions that died during the "Dark Ages" of the inquesition and all who died then then as maryters for their faith in our Lord. Let us be encouraged to keep the faith. Rev 3:10-12

    September 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  20. james miller, seymour,TX

    The face he is imprisoned for his beliefs says it all. ---– Muslims, when in a majority, have little tolerance of any beliefs outside Islam.---

    September 29, 2011 at 2:52 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.