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. hustlenflo

    These Fundamentalist Muslims are out of control – forcing a Christian to recant his religion! That is why the US must immediately take action against all the Muslims in our country and make them recant their religion. Right ??? How can we practice freedom of religion with all these Muslims in our country ??? Isn't that what Bill O'Reilly said the other night on Fox ??

    September 30, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • JimmyJohn

      Who cares. Find some real news to report. If you hang out in Iran, you take your life in your own hands. Just like the hikers, you take your life into your own hands. The US cannot be responsible for global stupidity.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  2. LAjew


    Don't forget about Lebanon.

    Hezbollah is big there too. Saw it in the Golan Heights Lebanon border.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  3. badmuhammed

    Why is this such a controversy? The facts of Islam are simple, either you convert willingly or die, or if your lucky, you can practice your non muslim faith by paying a toll tax of sorts, but are still second class citizens. Those are facts, undisputed

    September 30, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  4. kimsland

    This is what happens when you allow religion to become law.
    It would happen in the US as well, given half a chance.
    Stop religious people from having any power, live in peace, not unfounded persecution.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  5. mls

    I am no longer a deeply religious man, yet while reading this article all I kept thinking of was Psalm 31.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • kimsland

      Good news.
      Well done in being intelligent and strong within yourself.
      Try to teach others around you that religion is bad for everyone and should be avoided at all costs.
      I'm so happy that you have now left this barbaric illogical and fear induced religious beliefs.
      Its always good to hear these stories of the ones that finally got free.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Timothy Roz

      You know this is just crazy. I cant believe its 2011 and the world is still like this. Who gives the right for man to pass judgement on another human being for life. What if America started excuting people in America with Islam religion. Dont you think for 1 second we would be hearing from Iran? I think so and after 911. Im so proud to be an American. Thank God Im American. Bunch of animals living in Iran.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  6. TheTruth72

    Funny how the US is against this, but slowly it is becoming this way in the US towards Christians. Just recently people were fined for holding a church meeting inside a home. Just ridiculous.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:32 am |
    • tffl

      They were fined for violating zoning laws that prohibit holding organized meetings (of any type) in a residential neighborhood without getting a permit (which they have chosen not to get). This hardly seems like a religious freedom issue – it is an issue of the neighbors not wanting the noise and having 50 people parking in their front yards twice a week.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Sheesh


      Thanks for not allowing TheTruth72 to get away with his/her non-truths.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  7. The Truth Hurts

    Ah yes. The religion of peace.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  8. Sam

    He needs a nose job, but other than that, yeah this is really bad that Iran is doing this. shame shame.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • I Hate Stupid People

      Complete failure ^^^
      You need to be sterilized you utter waste of life.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  9. katherine

    Please God, be with Yousef now and carry him through this trial. May his faith sustain him, comfort him and protect him and may you use him to reveal Your Truth to the world. All glory to You Lord forever and ever.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  10. Name*Chedar

    Spare this gentleman's life and let him come to America if you don't want him.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  11. novo

    Isn't America the country that excuted an innocent man in Georgia a few weeks back? Pot, meet Kettle...

    September 30, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • HT Cat

      Troy Davis killed a police officer in front of a dozen eyewitnesses. I would say this isn't quite the same scenario ;-]

      September 30, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Thayer

      From what I understand he was totally guilty. There were multiple witnesses and plenty of evidence (shell casings that came from his gun). He also had just gunned down someone ealier in the night. Are you also aware that the jury was made of 7 blacks and 5 whites. Of course not. Why don't you read up on it instead joining the crowd of idiots who know nothing about the case and think he's innocent because he wears glasses and a few racist blacks think he didn't do it because he's black. btw – 3 of the last 4 executions before him have been white people. I'm sure you don't care about them though do you?

      September 30, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  12. joesense

    I would LOVE to hear comments from the so called 'real' muslims who say their religion is one of peace and brotherhood. what baloney... Islam is one of extreme intolerance and utter hatred. I would recommend we keep a close watch on all mosques in the country.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Ashraf

      This has nothing to do with Islamic Shariah Law.It's simply man made Iranian laws.Besides,this is only scare tactics on behalf of the Iranian government and don't think the execition will ever happen.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Thayer

      Shut up Ashraf – this is completely islamic thinking. Its a freaking evil cult started by madman who liked to molest little girls. None of the evil that muslims do surprise me.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Ashique

      Dude, Islam is not represented by the barbaric laws of a middle aged country. Islam gives its followers only the right to call the people of other religion to the path of Islam. It is HARAM or STRICTLY FORBIDDEN......as in you-will-rot-in-hell-for-eternity-if-you-do-this kinda forbidden to FORCE non believers to convert according to Islamic law. And please do not call these way ward Arabs ISLAMIC Terrorists............they are Sanctimonial Middle Eastern Terrorists.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  13. gamey

    Does anyone really believe the Muslim "faith" is kind or loving or normal???

    September 30, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • TheTruth72

      Some will say, "Oh, that's just the radical muslims that do this horrible stuff." Come on, give me a break. Do they even know what their religion teaches?

      September 30, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • Joe

      Does anybody believe that 'christianity' is? You must not be familiar with the book that all your beloved 'freedom loving' American politicians swear their office entry oaths upon.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  14. Rebecca

    May God continue to be with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani!

    September 30, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Fred1

      “continue”? Sounds to me like your god is asleep at the switch

      October 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  15. joebiden

    God Bless you Paster Yusuf. May god protect you and your family and safely release you and your country off from the iron fist. He who set the rulers would sweep them away at will.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  16. Kafir4life

    More of this draconian make no sense doctrine when "Arab Spring" states join Iran and start ruling with Sharia....for all you freedom hopless romantic leftists carrying water for I$lam in this country...enter Egypt

    September 30, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  17. Tayra

    There is not much different between these Abrahamic religion...I don't understand..even in the Qoran it says there is no compulsion in religion..obviously they are not following the religion. There is has to be another reason for this..political maybe

    September 30, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • talezspin

      There is no compulsion in religion verse in the Quran is abrogated i.e. no longer valid. Search online for "three things about Islam" and educate yourself.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • wakeup333

      "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (Quran 9:29)

      (People of the Book = Christians & Jews, Jizya = tax on inferior faiths.)

      “Ibn 'Umar reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me) ; kill him.” (Muslim Hadith, Book 41, #6981)

      “It has been narrated by 'Umar b. al-Khattib that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.” (Muslim Hadith, Book 19, #4366)

      September 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  18. BlackDynamiteNYC

    Somebody expects the Iranians to take that as an insult?

    September 30, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  19. Altee11

    If this is true, then we can say that Ahmadenijad and Khamenei are using illegitimate ways to coerce people into following their theocratically centered rule. This coercion means the numbers that follow them are illegitimate; if people can't actually change their mind, then how can one truly count them as in the fold and know that they are actually in the fold. For all we know, millions in Iran do not follow what Khamenei and Ahmadenijad preach. Of course Iran will still use them in their numbers.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • mike kerns

      Actually it is not Islam that is the problem it is conservative Islam that is the problem. It does not matter what religion it is it is the fundamentalists conservatives that are the problem.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  20. BobcatUSN

    The Iranian Islamic Republic is an evil government holding a man for beliving in God because he is a Christian. This a sad situation that should be an embarrasment to all peace-loving Muslums. All major religions have gone through thier dark ages and reform periods throuout history. Islam is going through its dark period which is evident whith Iran twisting of the old testament and Quran. Muslum Terrorists throughout the world recieve most of thier funding and training from Iran to import thier power and control claiming they are doing Allah's will. There are many good practicing Muslums who don't subscribe to the evil portrayal of Islam in Iran here in this country, and all over the world. There is also wide-spread religous persecution throughout the Middle East and in all countries who call themselves an Islamic Republic or State. Even in the Zionist Jewish State of Israel, Muslums are not prevented from practicing Islam. Any Muslums in Michican or anywhere else in America who support anti-Christian or antii-Jewish beliefs in Iran can fell free to go live in Iran or Syria and die at the hands of those who live in there who are fighting for freedom from such evil empires. The Crusades did not last nor did the Ottoman Empire. Arab Muslums raping and killing thier Muslum brothers and sisters in Darfur, Africa is a crude corupted arm of Islamic fundamentalists like aL-Qeada, and Hezbollah.

    Anyone who uses religion or ethnic cleansing as an excuse to have power and dominion over thier fellow man like Iran, Pakistan, and the Sudan does internally and through importing terror through the likes of aL-Qaeda, Hezbollah or the Janjaweed. All this is strong evidence that supports wide-spread coruption within the Islamic world that is all done not for the sake of Allah, but to simply have power and control over people. The US is the most powerful nation on earth but is a nation of freedom and tolerance. America is not perfect, but the power Iran seeks as China or Russia seeks through Communism goes against all principles of freedom that they are all jealous of that we have here in America. Again, anyone who supports Iran, Turkey, Syria or Pakistan's use of Islamic laws against non-Muslums in this country can leave now, and don't let the good lady holding the torch of freedom kick you on your way out the doors of freedom.

    September 30, 2011 at 1:49 am |
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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.