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. shawn from san diego

    This is something that has been going on for a very long time... my cousin who is a baha'i, was executed in iran last month after being in jail for 3 month... who knows what they did to her in there.... religion is disgusting, that's why i choose to be an agnostic

    September 30, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • Creel

      Sadly, religion has killed far more people than it has saved.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • FactsOfTheCase

      Sounds like a Muslim problem, not a Religion problem.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  2. chris

    Look at the bigger picture here .... The reality of the situation ... If Iran and like minded Muslim country's had free reign then all Christians all religions and all atheist will be put under the same consequences. Food for thought .

    September 30, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  3. T.P. Hilvers

    Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

    Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you ... Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die." - Dt.13:6-10

    Seems liken Christians suddenly get all hypocritical about such things when it concerns them. Seem to forget that the bible is pretty clear what to do with non-Christians.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Altee11

      This is not really about religion. It is about power and how it is employed. Religion is merely the that which everyone involved hides behind.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • Creel

      Luke 6:31 : Do to others as you would have them do to you.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • Stephen

      Only crazy Christians actually follow old testament doctrine, the normal ones stick with the New Testament happy place hooplah.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  4. jackmeoff

    I suppose we should applaud this. A dead iranian is a gooood iranian.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Eric

      You're a racist. Go do as your namesake suggests.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • deniseacole

      Oh my goodness, I can't believe you actually had the guts to post that, you racist dimwit!

      September 30, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • Chuckles

      To be fair, it isn't racist, it's xenophobic. Being Iranian is not a race.

      Still not the nicest thing to post, but not racist.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  5. Sapster

    Praying for this Pastor and his whole family. He is a true example of what it means to Love The Lord. I am so thankful I live in country where I have the freedom to worship, even though most day CNN and other news medias seem to enjoy knocking those of the Christian Faith.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  6. Noah

    Why does the US wait until this to 'declare' what Iran does is absurd? They've been doing this stuff for decades...

    September 30, 2011 at 3:52 am |
  7. Adam9

    How can we say it's unfair for Iran to execute anyone a mere week after the Supreme Court wouldn't even hear an appeal for a death row prisoner who might have been unjustly convicted? Pot, kettle.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • Creel

      Your right, I heard this Iranian preacher also shot a man in the face, pistol whipped a bum, and killed a cop.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Stephen

      Yeah the man executed somehow got the cops blood on his shorts and just happened to of failed to get rid of the evidence. I can't believe you're comparing someone who was convicted of murder to an innocent man who was just practicing his religious beliefs, you sir are an ass.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  8. Manumission

    Please tell me, what is the difference between the U.S. killing many black and hispanic men in our death chambers, and the Iranian goverment killing a few Christians in theirs? Government sanctioned murder, that is what America wants, right? So why not execute a few pastors in Iran, they deserve it, no?

    September 30, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Creel

      I didn't know we were killing black and Hispanic men for their religious beliefs here in America, that's awful. What were their names?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Stephen

      Manumission, I'm not sure what exactly you are referring to but people being killed because of Religious differences is a huge stain on humanity as a whole. As far as whatever you're trying to say, you've definitely lost me.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  9. theway

    i would urge all of those who care about the decency of human life to have there thoughts and prayers on this man.

    to those of you who wish to argue and belittle others for there beliefs what example are you setting for your own???

    i am a christian i and respect those who disagree with me because it is the right and moral thing to do and my religion demands it.
    Matthew 5:43-48
    "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have??

    September 30, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • Yuniverse

      Amen. I pray for strength in faith that he would stand by Jesus Christ in Jesus' name.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • humberto


      September 30, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  10. Ayo

    It is not in America's place to dictate to Iran. You will just make the man's case worse. Stop the killing of innocents in your own country first before you can point a finger at Iran...the hypocrisy of the American govt. is astounding. So you can kill whom ever you like but Iran can't do the same? Not that what Iranian govt. intends to do is right. Let another country condemn this not America, besides why fight God's fight for Him. God is capable to deliver this pastor.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • Yuniverse

      Humanity is full of hypocrites...not just the problem of US. And yes, God is able to deliver him – spiritually, first of all.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • Joe


      September 30, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • Fred1

      Your god hasn’t delivered anything (not so much as one pizza) in the last 2000 years. Why do you think he’s going to start now?

      October 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  11. Manumission

    America has no room to criticize here. Until we abolish the death penalty we are the same as Iran. Killing people through the government, whether in America or Iran, is evil. But, it is OK, we are a "Christian Nation", so we get to kill people, but Iran cannot, because they are a Mulsim Nation. Utter stupidity.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • chris

      America uses the death penalty for violent offenders and murderers...where Iran uses it for innocents and in all reality whoever they chose often without cause other than control. There is a vast difference in your comparison.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Whaat?

      You compare executing murderers to executing people for religious beliefs? Are you stupid or just plain ignorant?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • j14

      You obviously have a twisted sense of logic. Capital punishment for crimes such as murder maybe thought as grievous and inhumane but to think that one can be punished for holding onto one's religious beliefs certainly is not fair. What you're implying is that the US government is guilty of such mistakes as the iranian. I doubt that and im not even american. Obviously you are biased by your distaste for those who believe in religion. Everyone's got their beliefs whether its a christian, atheist, agnostic. Seem's to me that you've made the same mistakes as the people you despise (religious folk particularly chrisitans) and discriminated against them by holding your values superior to others.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • FactsOfTheCase

      When we stop repeat offending murderers, America is a little safer. When Iran executes pastors, Iran is a little more dangerous. You should really think about what you say more.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • dont worry about it

      the only thing is, we don't recieve the death penalty because of our own religion, or freedoms. We earn the death penalty by doing something much more severe as such of criminal cases.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  12. JS

    Iran is barbaric? Nooooooooooooo?? Really? What a shock!

    September 30, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • Manumission

      Barbaric? How many people has the American government and its states executed in the past 10 years? We are just as bad as the Iranians – a society committed to its executions.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Eric

      Manumission: Don't you think executing someone convicted of MURDER is different than executing someone just because of their religion? Whether you're for or against the death penalty, you should be able to see the difference.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  13. Rod

    Look at Youcef's face, the countenance of His Lord ... ever shining, sparkling light as the stars beaming brightly amidst darkness over Persias "Daniel's den". He will surely be delivered! What a glowing testimony : Praise God for His children!

    September 30, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Manumission

      What a stupid post. All this guy has to do to live is recant his stupid "religious" beliefs. Sounds like a complete tool, he should just change hsi mind and live.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Joe

      Manumission, you are a complete moron

      September 30, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • Jeremy

      Manumission, my friend, that's it! He has found life already. To deny Jesus may give him a few more years on this earth, but it will never save him from death in the end. Moreover, if he denies Jesus, he loses the only true life there is!
      Jesus said:
      Mat 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
      Mat 10:33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

      Joh_5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

      Joh_6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

      Joh_11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

      My friend, i pray that you too may come to know Jesus, for it is only in Him that we can find true life. I pray that you may encounter his love, his tremendous love that He demonstrated on the cross, that we might be forgiven of our sins, and re-united to the Father!

      Joh_15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. clizzy

    Sounds like somebody needs a nap!

    September 30, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  15. kimsland

    I feel he should be allowed to recant his religious beliefs.
    All of them.
    Let all fools lose their religious beliefs, then we'll live in a happier safer world.
    By the way Allah must truly be a hateful figure, but since christians say allah means their god as well, then even christians are wrong.
    Recant I say, and grow up. There is no make believe god, its only you.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • Yuniverse

      Why not recant your belief...in your self and depend upon the Creator – Jesus Christ.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • ruffin

      It is not a bad thing to believe in something. Religion is actually good if one follows its good teachings. It is the extremism that is bad.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  16. Corksoaker

    Is this sad? Yes. But christians have been killing people who wouldn't convert to their way of thinking for centuries too. Even within christianity you've had differing sects killing each other up until the last decade.

    Religion is mankind's stupidest invention.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Not True

      Lies, we christians do not kill people to bring them towards our beliefs, those people who call them selves christians, but they enforce people to turn towards God, using threats or killing them if they don't convert, they are truly not a christian. A christian is a person, who believes that God died on the cross for us, to save us from our sins, and that we may be forgiven. We believe that we should walk in the ways of the Lord. Everyone makes mistakes. Even christians. We are not some special people going around and telling people that were all that and perfect, thats not true, everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect. So if i were you, I would take this comment into consideration, and mabye, just mabye, try out a christian church. I am not forcing you, you may go to a church if you want to, or if you don't, then fine. Your choices. Christianity is not a religion by the way. God bless you Iran Pastor.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • Not True

      P.S. Im just a 12 year old kid,

      September 30, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Stephen

      Not True... Christianity is a religion, people have misused it and will continue to misuse it. (Pat Robinson, Waco Texas Davidians, Mormon Extremists, Kosovo) List goes on and on. History is doomed to repeat itself, and Christianity is no exception.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Confused

      Christianity is not a religion? What?

      September 30, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  17. Marcus


    September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • FactsOfTheCase

      Troy Davis should not have shot anyone; that would have saved him a lot of trouble. And I am talking about the man he shot before he shot the police officer. So, comparing a pastor and a person who was seen shooting people is a little different.

      What the heck; Here is your hero...
      The charges against Troy Davis arose from the shooting of Michael Cooper, the beating of Larry Young and the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail on August 18-19, 1989.

      On the evening of August 18, 1989, Davis attended a pool party in the Cloverdale neighborhood of Savannah, Georgia. As he left the party with his friend Daryl Collins, the occupants of a passing car yelled obscenities. A bullet was fired at the car[1] and Michael Cooper, a passenger, was struck in the jaw.[2] Later that evening, Davis and Collins proceeded to the parking lot of a Burger King restaurant in the Yamacraw Village section of Savannah. There they encountered Sylvester "Redd" Coles arguing with a homeless man, Larry Young, over alcohol.[1][3]

      At about 1.15am on August 19, 1989, Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer working as a security guard, attempted to intervene in the pistol-whipping of Young.[4] MacPhail was shot twice: once through the heart and once in the face. He did not draw his gun.[1][3][5][6] Bullets and shell casings which were determined to have come from a .38-caliber pistol were retrieved from the crime scene. Witnesses to the shooting agreed that a man in a white shirt had struck Young and then shot MacPhail.[1]

      On August 19, Coles told Savannah Police he had seen Davis with a .38-caliber gun, and that Davis had assaulted Young.[1][7] The same evening, Davis drove to Atlanta with his sister.[1][7] In the early morning of August 20, 1989, Savannah Police searched the Davis home and seized a pair of Davis's shorts which were found in a clothes dryer.[8] Davis's family began negotiating with police, motivated by concerns about his safety; local drug dealers were making death threats because the police dragnet seeking Davis had disrupted their business.[7][9] On August 23, 1989, Davis returned to Savannah, surrendered himself to police and was charged with MacPhail's murder.[7]

      September 30, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  18. Billythrowtheballatmyhead



    September 30, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  19. James W

    The Obama administration opens it's big mouth for this Iranian Pastor, but they didn't say a word when two innocent Americans were jailed for 2 years? Another Obama ploy for votes! No votes to get to save the Americans, but he could possibly pull in some Christian votes by this stunt! Obama has no shame.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  20. JL

    For Godsake tell these retards what they want to hear and get the hell out of the country.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • humberto

      What ! no more family values ?

      September 30, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • humberto

      It was unjust to give felons a place of authority, when they wont even work for theirselves .

      September 30, 2011 at 3:41 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.