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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. Alex

    Would the US defend if he would an atheist like myself?

    September 30, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Not without a bunch of grief from the teabaggers.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  2. DC

    So much for the myth of Islam being a tolerant religion.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Our Christian theocracy in Texas is pretty dangerous too.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • jonp

      Religion in general has the tendency to be intolerable.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  3. Steven

    The people of Iran are normal good people but the Gov of Iran is perfectly and completly Insane, the people need to over-throw the Gov there, it will cost a lot of blood but must be done, hopefully soon the timing will be right or the opportunity will present it self.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  4. DrJStrangepork

    Regardless of ideology, you have to have respect for a person who can hold to his beliefs in the face of execution. I think it ridiculous to die or kill for any religion, but this guy is standing by the principal of freedom. Impressive...

    To think that people have been in this position over most every religion conceived... should make us all disgusted.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • SCAtheist

      I think he's dumb – he should fake a conversion and get the heck out of there. Give up his life for a fairy tale – come on!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  5. Jim

    The equivalent of this is someone refusing to drink Pepsi for a bit and continuing to drink coke. Switch flavors of religion for a bit its all the same made up stuff. Just goes to show how ridiculous people are to ignore the basic instinct to survive for something that isn't even valid.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. Brahman

    "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." - Mahatma Gandhi, 'Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13,' May 3, 1919

    September 30, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Fred1

      WWI and WWII would seem to disprove that

      September 30, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    The names Ahmed and Mehmet mean actually Mohammed like Billy means William or Fritz means Friedrich.

    Why do Muslim people prefer these first names?

    Is it possible that they worship an idol, called Muhammad?

    September 30, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Irrelevent nonsense.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • William Demuth

      Why do half the Latino baseball players have a brother named Jesus?

      Perhaps they too worship a DIFFERENT imaginary god?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • William Demuth

      But have you ever noticed how UNCOMMON the name Adolf has become for young boys?

      You see, EVEN Germans can learn.

      I suggest you try.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Muhammad Muhammad Muhammad

      I like my name. It's the most poplar name on the planet. Yu gotta problem whit that?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  8. lenny

    I laugh at all morons who defend their religion tooth and nail. The person you hear talking in your head is you, and guess what, you're crazy.

    Religions control, manipulate, and decimate the masses.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • ModernMan

      That is your opinion, and your opinion is pointless.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Jim

      Ienny- Its fact and not an opinion.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Jason K

      Organized religion does just that lenny. However, do not confuse that or lump in those of us who are spiritual people that yearn for a relationship with who we perceive to be our creators.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  9. SCAtheist

    Stop believing in the invisible man in the sky, and all this would be moot.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • ModernMan

      REALLY??? That is your answer? They are going to KILL a man for believing in something. Thought control. And all these mslium, islam corkheads claim that they are so peaceful. And you are a disgrace to the human race yourself. Idiot.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • claybigsby

      ModerMan: If you want to see "thought control" I suggest you look first at your own religion

      September 30, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  10. hagere

    It is good for the CNN to contradict itself. I remember once when CNN was grilling Franklin Graham for his straight forward politically uncorrect comment about the ideology of Islam. We all know Islam is at wrong side of human history. This religion preaches peace in a nutshell which NEVER practiced. There is no religious right as a person born in moslem family. It is the society or your family is the one deciding what to believe...ridiculous! If not, the penality is death! How on earth someone dare to preach Islam is peaceful. The world is in turmoil now due to this devilish ideology. Many who wrote about the real picture of Islam are in the hide or killed barbarically. Even the so called moderate ones are sympathyizers of the killers. It is not far to forget when the London England cleric boldly claiming the terrorist attack in US is legitimate or he refuse to condemn. This is what he said, "how could I condemn my fellow brother "?. the media like CNN is trying to paint rosey picture about Islam. Read the insiders report about Islam. You'll see the true ugly picture. Do not forget Islam is spread by sword. This is not interpretation of this religion. It is clearly written in their Koran. Women are not considered as human. Koran saying woman can not be accepted as witness bec she is half a man. It also say, if they believe or accept Islam spare them; if not slay them. What is this ? People who blidly defending Islam as peaceful religion do not have shame to say it. Wahabists slogan is this " We can not fight as we fought to spread Islam before by sword, we'll fight with diplomatic sword to take over the west ". That's what they're doing now in Europe, Africa & America. Read teh statstic in France only.
    The # of mosques in US are getting different shape & form calling them Islamic center, which is not alarming for the west. There is a lot to say. Finally, it is not new if they kill any person who is not practicing Islam or leaving Islam & embrace other religion. Because it is Islamic law written in KORAN!!! Peroid! We'VE TO FIGHT THIS IDEAOLGY IN ITS ENTIRETY OR ACCEPT IT & READY TO BE SLAIN ONE AT A TIME.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Yes and Franklin Graham believes Obama is not a US citizen. We should follow wingnuts like that.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • KEM10

      I know quite a few Muslims that live by the book and practice it daily. Their most common Jihad is Jihad an-nafs, the Jihad against one's self in order to improve themselves physically, intellectually, and spiritually. They respect the other people of the book (Surah Al 'Imran, 84) since they abide by the same God with an upgraded message. We have talked about politics, religion, women (and not just in a subservient way), and what is morality. I have met their friends and parents and all of them say the same thing when it comes to the behaviors of the people you arc type: the few extremists are given blow horns to drown out the majority of the believers.

      If you also want a Peaceful and Loving god through Christianity: why not look at Westboro, or the other fundamentalists that have bombed or killed abortion clinics/doctors? Yet we are allowed to place those groups of our own society under the rug, but must capitalize on the miscreants of the other cultures to make us feel better?

      If 5% of everything is complete crap, wouldn't the largest religion in the world have a lot more individuals that are bad for the group's PR than our own nation?
      PS: The estimated Islamic world population is 1.97 Billion, US population is 307 Million. Just to clarify my last remark.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Yakub bin Isa

      The media has for a long time been working at dumbing us down especially here in America. Your comments are passionate, and I hope someone of power will see them. In my opinion, the central biggest lie that we have accepted hook, line, and sinker, is that Islam teaches, and Muslims believe in the same God as Christians and Jews. Not true. The God of Muslims is th god of Ishmael, a son of Abraham. The God of Jews and Christians Is The God of Isaac, another son of Abraham. The two brothers split ways. Isaac followed The God of his father, Ishmael went off to follow the gods of the east. It is clear in our Holy Books. My point here is not to clear up centuries of lies and adversity, but to call to attention we are dealing with two diametrically opposed set of beliefs, values, and end goals. Armageddon will come for sure, as the New World Order cannot allow this. It may be already be upon us through this deliberate attempt through propaganda to feed so much mass mis-information to the masses, who do not care so long as they can have at the least adequate food, clothing, shelter and toys. I mean, I'm just sayin...

      September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  11. Binky42

    I hope someone will intervene. Maybe someone like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who is seen as a moderate Sharia Islamic, but is also an ally to Iran. He just prevented a woman from being lashed for driving a car, AND just gave women the right to vote and run for public office.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  12. jmr

    while I feel for this guy, how about we condemn the treatment of Jerome Esther who is right here in the US

    September 30, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  13. Ahmed

    I am a Muslim and if this story is true , the Iranian Regime must be brought down and quickly

    September 30, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Ahmed

      The Iranian Regime just obeys Muhammad and his Koran.

      From the Muslim stance the Iranian Regime are exemplary believers (Muslims).

      September 30, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • ModernMan

      I could not agree more. Despite religious differences, we can exist in this world as brothers, friends and family. We have to unite, life is too short and complex not to.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  14. A Christian

    Religion of Peace strikes again.

    This man is clearly taking up his cross. Inspiring.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  15. TheRationale

    Typical Islamic theocracy...

    September 30, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • jim

      Don't you mean "typical theocracy"?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  16. Maria

    The root of all evil isn't money. It's religion.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • A Christian

      Oh please...

      People who speak against Christianity have no idea. If people actually lived by the teachings of Christ, the world would be perfect.

      September 30, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Samsword

      I would say "power" actually. "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" Whether it's in the name of religion, government, or comercial enterprise... Corrupt Islamic leaders manipulate people's beliefs the same way Hitler and Stalin did with propaganda... Ridding the world of religion wouldn't stop it.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Binky42

      The problem isn't the teachings of Christ. The problem is organized religion. Why can't people sit at home, read the Bible, and interpret the lessons for themselves? Who needs a pastor sitting in a big mansion to reach God?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • William Demuth

      A Christian

      That ridiculous.

      Your very faith itself INSIST the world must be destroyed for its horrors.

      The ONLY way your imaginary God could make this perfect would be to wipe it out.

      You can't have it both ways.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Jim

      A Christian- How would the world be perfect if everyone lived by the teachings of christ? That is just as ridiculous as thinking that everyone would be feeling better if everyone got high. Since the teachings of christ are interpreted and recorded by those other than christ the teachings themselves are not actually those of christ which in turn cause those teachings to be imperfect as they are only stories based on what may have actually happened. So even if one person follows what they interpret to be the teachings of christ they might not even be doing what was actually intended.

      How about everyone just be as civil as possible and hope for the best. That's what has been working for centuries. Don't need religion to accomplish that.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Jason K

      Actually, its pride.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Jason K

      Actually, its pride. It was around long before money or religion.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  17. Emilio

    America can invade Iraq and kill Iraqis with impunity, whilst salting their environment with Depleted Uranium (DU) which has already resulted in genetic mutation and the disfigurement of the offsprings of those affected by DU, can now have the gall to protest the imminent execution of an Iranian national in Iran? Go figure.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  18. Rainer Braendlein

    Sura 9: Verse 29 of the wicked Koran:

    Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
    ( سورة التوبة , At-Taubah, Chapter #9, Verse #29)

    Interpretation of Sura 9: Verse 29:

    “Have been given the Scripture” are Jews and Christians, “believe not in allah nor the Last Day” are Jews and Christians, messenger = Muhammad, “Religion of Truth” = Islam, tribute = tax.

    Hence, Muhammad commands to fight and conquer Christian and Jewish countries. Muhammad commands aggressive war. At least he is so “merciful” to allow that people pay a tax, instead to convert to Islam.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Mortimer Bing

      Why are Satan's and Islam's perceptions of Jews and Christians so similar?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Yakub bin Isa

      Your response quoting The Noble Qur'an is exactly what has been missing in the Western world's ignorance of Islam and true Muslims teachings and beliefs. There can be no true peace between us. How the governments can be so naieve as to believe we can co-exist is beyond me. We serve different Gods. Isa teaches peace, and if one of His disciples needs to die for such a relationship, he is not to fight back with arms, he can appeal to the law, and if denied, he will pay the price. Not so with Islam. Your mention of the "tax" and selective editing of your "Book" is very clever by the way. In reality, in Islamic run countries today, such is not observed, "infidels", especially Christians and Jews are fair game. Deal with the real Truth.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  19. TRUTH

    MATTHEW 10:39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • jim

      Then Nadarkhani has no reason to complain, and we have no reason to protest on his behalf.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • William Demuth

      Whoever is thin shall be fat, but whomever is fat shall never be thin : Dr Kildare

      September 30, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  20. Mary

    William Demuth may be right about our planning to invade Iran. And he certainly seems on to something when he asks whether we sense a pattern here. I condemn Iran's conviction of a Christian pastor, but I think that we are being very selective in what we condemn. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was barbarous, for sure, but Christians were tolerated. Now that we have stepped in to introduce them to "freedom" and "democracy," how are Christians doing in Iraq right now?

    http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2011/iraq
    http://www.christiansofiraq.com/united.html

    What hypocrites are government leaders are!

    September 30, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Mary

      Sorry. What hypocrites OUR government leaders are!!!!

      September 30, 2011 at 9:43 am |
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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.