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. Chris

    He said this would happen in the last days. God bless this man and his family.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Sheesh

      Who he? A first century sci-fi/horror/fantasy writer?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  2. HMI

    Islamic leaders msut be very scared of Christianity if they have to kill of believers!!!

    September 30, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Brian Smith

      Evil is afraid of Christianity.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  3. eaglemt

    While you are alive, you have a chance to believe in Jesus and repent of your sins. After you die, there is no more chance. God offers complete forgiveness of sins now while you are alive. If you continue to mock Christians because they happen to believe this, and waste time trying to say they are deluded and quote those now dead, like Carl Sagan, as experts on the non=reality of the hereafter, you will end up like Carl Sagan. He is without hope in the place where God said unbelievers would be. Take God's offer, because He is in charge and makes the rules. A truly wise man would seek to make peace with God while he has the chance.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Sheesh

      eaglemt - "After you die, there is no more chance."

      How do you know that for sure?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Kenneth

      Or else I'll burn in eternal torment. Right? Shut up and quit the fear-tactic threats already.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • eaglemt

      God says in the Bible, Hebrews 10:27 "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many."

      September 30, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • eaglemt

      These are words of good cheer! God wants to forgive you of everything wrong you have ever done! The only fear for you is if you don't take His offer of complete acquittal and a eternal home in heaven, where a mansion made of gold and jewels for you awaits, and instead insist on rejecting his offer. What happens to you then? He says that you will have to serve your just sentence. Why would you want to choose that?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • What If

      eaglemt "God says in the Bible, Hebrews 10:27"

      No, Paul of Tarsus said that. Why do you believe him? He was a misogynistic, misanthropic, zealot, and promoter who hijacked the new 1st century cult to suit his variety of new and improved Judaism... guaranteed not to break, bust, collect dust, bruise, bend or tear! Buy Now!!!

      September 30, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • Brian Smith

      @what if. Why does it bother you so much that Christians believe in God? What are you afraid of?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • What If

      Brian, Well I suppose I do have a fear about what these fantasy beliefs can do to cause trouble all over the world, as if we don't have enough with real problems of political ills, poverty, diseases and natural disasters; but mostly I am repelled by so many, like eaglemt and the huge number of others like him/her, who preach hell-fire and eternal torment for those who don't regard their unproven beliefs as reality.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • Fred1

      man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he? As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, so man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep" Job:14:10-12..

      October 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  4. texghan2000@yahoo.com

    how come this news wasnt on yahoo or iranian press?? cnn is reporting fake stuff now?? they ran out of stories?? or we want another war with another country in the middle east?

    September 30, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  5. R

    Palestine asks UN now, not all these past years, to become a State
    Comet heading this way, “Elenin”
    Doctor makes mistake or dead person rises in Brazil reported by CNN....?
    Earthquakes floods…even now Canary Islands
    World focused on man in Iran proclaiming Iran can kill him but he will not renounce Christ…….

    September 30, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  6. Colin of Vancouver

    Rise up! Damn I wish I were as passionate about pastafanarianism...

    September 30, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Kenneth

      May you find comfort in his noodly embrace. 🙂

      September 30, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  7. joe

    Iran Barbaric? Duh. Has your head been stuck in the sand or something?

    September 30, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  8. Ahab

    Where is his god now? Why does GOD rescue him? God loving fools.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • wannabe

      That sounds a bit like what the people who wanted Jesus to be crucified said to him...
      Lord forgive me and this guy. we are both fools.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • G

      you still don't get it.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Brian Smith

      If you knew anything at all about religion, you would know that God is where he always has been. The world is not a Foosball game that God plays. We are not here for what we can get out of the world. We are here to do good for each other and share God's love. We have free will. If I had more time, I would explain it all to you. You really should know what true Christianity is before you give a blanket statement. Makes you no better than them.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  9. YBP

    Note that Atheists don't kill people in the name of Atheism. It takes a special kind of insanity for this kind of extreme and senseless violence. It's called Faith. It will eventually destroy humankind.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Chozo

      'Faith' may well be a product of mental evolution that has helped many people in dire straights from committing suicide and murder. From that viewpoint it serves a purpose, but as with anything, it can be bent and twisted to negative ends. I expect that 'faith' will eventually be seen in the same light as belief in Santa Claus and will slowly wither away. It's just a matter of time.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Michael of Michigan

      People listen! Every choice we make is EITHER (1. Choose to serve God and help others at the cost of your own personal gain OR (2. Choose to serve yourself at the cost of God's gain and the gain of others.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Monkeyman

      No, Atheist kill in the name of it darwinistic, "genetic" ideals. Not saying Atheist are bad people, just saying everybody does it. Not just relegious people.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • Brian Smith

      Humans will destroy humankind, not faith. That this man of God will shine in God's eyes if he is executed for believing in Him will sound stupid to those without faith. Those of us with faith realize that present time is no different than Biblical times in that sacrificing your life to stand up for God will be rewarded. You seem to know that there is no God. I choose to believe that there is a God and try to live my life accordingly. If I'm wrong, no problem, if you are wrong, them may God bless your soul.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • What If

      Brian, "If I'm wrong, no problem"

      What if you picked the wrong god?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Brian Smith

      @what if. There is only one God. Why would God look the same to all people when there are so many different people in this world? If you look closely at all religions, they all ultimately have the same teachings and message. They are just presented differently. I believe that God is God is Allah is Buddha etc. I would never try to change someones mind about what religion they want to be. I just try and be an example and let others see what God has done in my life. Most of the people that I personally know that have become Christian, have done so because of what they have seen in others lives.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • What If


      Except for worshipping a deity, I'll bet that I live life every bit as uprightly as you do.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Brian Smith

      @what if. I would never assume that you don't. I'm sure you are a wonderful person. Telling you what I believe, in no way makes me a better person than you. You are expressing your opinion, I am expressing mine. I'm sure if we met somewhere we could sit down and enjoy a beer or cup of coffee together. You see, true Christians don't judge people, they try to set an example.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:00 am |
  10. Hoffman

    Look dGAT
    You as bad or worse

    September 30, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  11. Aaron

    I guess Iran wants another million dollars in "bail". A real cottage industry. Kidnap some people, trump up some charges and tell the wold your going to keep them or kill them unless someone "bails" them out.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  12. Michael of Michigan

    No evidence for or against suggests all possibilities are equally possible. Flip a coin and slap your hand over it before you can tell which side is up. Get it?

    September 30, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  13. Scott

    Religion is silly. Stop believing in magical sky wizards who grant wishes.

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

      Amen, brother.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • eaglemt

      What happens if it is really true that believers in Jesus go to heaven, and those who don't burn in hell forever? Are you willing to take that chance for yourself? Don't you care enough about yourself to take this seriously? If not, you will remember how you mocked, and will weep and gnash your teeth in the excruciatiing unending pain. (Try googling vision of hell, where people have actually seen it.) God gave us His Son so that we would not have to go to hell. Don't throw your chance to escape hell away. Love yourself enough and wake up!

      September 30, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • Sheesh


      What happens if the stories about Quetzalcoatl and the afterlife are really true? Oy, are you ever screwed!

      September 30, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • Kenneth

      eaglemt, I'm not buying into your scare tactics. Threaten me with torture from your god all you want. It only tells me about you and the tactics of those who obviously have control of your mind. I'm with Scott on this one.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Brian Smith

      I think your argument might mean more if you saved it for someone face to face. You do not realize that how you are getting your message across makes you look kind of nuts.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  14. Eric

    If humans didn't devote themselves to so much perverse indulgence of Man Made religous dogma and rather tuned in to their inner voice and discovered their spirtiual life resided there and not in religions whose primary goal is a tool to control and manipulate through fear and ignorance. And all this madess over distortions and outright lies. The kinds of things religion wants to make people think about...keep people from pursuing those things which would benefit them most.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Michael of Michigan

      Unfortunately, all religions will attract fakers. Sometimes the devout lose out to selfishness or greed when they get a taste of power. Some fakers even lead whole congregations or head entire Churches. It is our individual duty to look deeper than what we see on the surface.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  15. Sheesh

    It's not bad enough that humans have to fight and kill over land and resources, they have to fight and kill over IMAGINARY beings! Grow up!

    September 30, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  16. Charles

    hahahahaha chock another one up for religion.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Tony

      hahahahaha. That's "chalk," you cabbagehead. If you're going to take the easy route and bash religion (so tiresome) you could at least get your insult correct.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  17. Hoffman

    A week ago we did same in GA
    Think about it

    September 30, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Chozo

      The pastor was never accused of murder. Still, state sponsored or not, murder is murder no matter who commits it..

      September 30, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  18. dgat

    ISlam is the religion of hate and violence.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  19. Lars J

    What is troubling to me are professed Christians in this country who also would like to get rid of the minority that do not believe as they do.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Oh brother

      Really Lars, when was the last time a Christian executed someone who disowned the Christian faith, or the last time a Catholic executed someone because they would not convert to Catholicism?

      Lets compare apples to apples here, shall we?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • Brian Smith

      You know, you're just wrong there. True Christians live their life as an example and try to lead people. So called Christians that use their religion to persecute and judge people are not any more Christian than you are. Just as the so called Muslims that kill in the name of Allah are not true Muslims. There are nuts all over.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • humberto

      Hey Bachagalu, people still drag people in the USA, behind pickuptrucks for fun –

      Courts still claim no merit for corrupt high level public officials to obstruct juatice and refuse to send the matter to the prosecutor – despite the court order initself is blatantly criminal .

      September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Brian Smith


      That story is on another page I think. No one here was talking about that case.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  20. Lars J

    It does explain, in my mind, why the people of the Middle East are generally so troubled when someone here uses the word "Crusade". It seems that they are still in many ways still emotionally and mentally back living in that era where both sides put people to death for not sharing their own beliefs.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:43 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.