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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. Fritz Kramer

    Call Hugo Chavez for help

    September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  2. Riiiiiight

    So sick of religion already. This will be the beginning of the end when they execute this guy and we'll find ourselves in a religious war beyond measure instead of focusing on science and bettering humanity.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • BoldGeorge

      Hate to bust your bubble but the science of bettering humanity is a myth. Throughout human existence, humanity has not gotten better. It's time to trust God's Word. There is no hope in science, but there is hope in God. Science has been trying to find the fountain of youth, but Jesus Christ offers everlasting life for those who truly are lost (though not many believe they are).

      September 30, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Fred1

      Of course humanity has gotten better. For instance Christians have been prevented from burning people at the stake

      September 30, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Joel

      @BoldGeorge – It's too bad that most are so lost that they will never know the joy that knowing Jesus can bring. They would rather poke fun, put down, and bring up every evil deed somebody has done "in the name" of Christ, in order to shatter your faith and make you feel worthless.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  3. Jeannie

    The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason

    September 30, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Riiiiiight

      Yep!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Faith is a challenge forwarded to one's challenging signs. Be but a humble faith that blindingly does not tempt the tempter's laments. Try to bond with another's humble faith leaving the stagnating pools behind in your wake. Cherished faith is above all other things and faithfully submit yourselves toward a finding of peace.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  4. Fabio

    BARBARIC? BARBARIC??? Before we label "Barbaric" other countries system we should see how "Barbaric" is for the US, corporate and financial system NOT to give a damn about the real American working people who support [by being enslaved and blackmailed] the wealth of those who, instead, destroyed the economy and what was hardly achieved in 60years!

    September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • molinaafo

      Yeah... but a least they are not being slaughtered for believing in something

      September 30, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • dirkk

      I just pictured you sitting on your front porch shaking your cane at kids trying to get their ball off your lawn.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Swindling swindlers do not barbaric barbarisms make neither does 'politicied' fortunes make upon the take. Life it self does swirl amid the fires ever being mindful of each others desires.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  5. Richard S Kaiser

    Such that is for the was of the once to the will of foreverness, life beyond religious servitude, wherefore art thou and with whom does the bell toll? Thus be written, there to be said and never to be done, thusly but a wasted chord being shed. Never again, never again, ever to be, never again.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  6. Chris

    This story wouldn't even have been picked up by mainstream media if the guy was anything but Christian. Tells you something.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • agathokles

      What does it tell me? There are many stories in the mainstream media about people being persecuted for their beliefs or lifestyles - not just Christians. Salmaan Taseer murdered in Pakistan for blasphemy; Shiite pilgrims murdered by Sunnis; gays executed in Iraq, Iran; gays persecuted in Nigeria.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  7. Michael

    Its the basis of any religious belief to share your views with others hoping they will see your way. Even atheists do it. So, what is a religion but a personal point of view. I'm a Buddhist. I'd love to see everyone be a Buddhist. You have to admire someone for believing so strongly in something good that they will suffer death for it. I respect other viewpoints, even the atheists. I hope Iran will cut this guy some slack but we all know in the world of sharia law he is going to be put to death because Islam doesn't allow for other viewpoints when it comes to religion.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • claybigsby

      "You have to admire someone for believing so strongly in something good that they will suffer death for it."

      Sorry...I dont admire stupidity.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Mike C.

      So he should let the Iranian government force him to do something against his rights as a human being? I'm pretty that's along the same lines as you whining about Christians "forcing" their religion down your throat.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Chuckles

      I can see your viewpoint and agree to an extent, I think it's admirable that someone does have strong enough convictions to die for them, but in this instance it seems silly. This could have been easily avoided and its needless, nor does it really further his agenda in anyway. If there was a revolution and someone is dying for freedom, that seems admirable because he doesn't just want freedom for himself, or even his country, it's for everyone. Religion on the otherhand is devisive and he died because he wouldn't trade jesus for muhammed.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • agathokles

      @Michael: Would you think it equally noble if someone believed he could fly and jumped to his death from a tall building? He would have died for what he believed in, too.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  8. Rainer Braendlein

    Two plagues: Islam and secularism. What is worse?

    Answer: Our Western secularism (godlessness, profanity) is at least as bad as Islam.

    When we consider ourselves as mere bodies without soul and designate the manifestations of life of our soul as pure appearances of the soulless matter, we are in high danger to corrupt totally. In fact a man without soul (that means a man, which denies that he has a soul) will behave like a beast (the Bible reports of a future completely soulless tyrant, which will emerge and behave very bad, thus he is called "The Beast".).

    It nearly amount to the same thing, whether someone denies the human soul or the invisible God. Both will lead to an absolutely godless behaviour. Instead of seeking for health for their injured souls, many today people try to abolish their soul and God. However, that is self-deceit and will not work. God and our soul are as real as the air, which we breathe.

    It is God, who wants to cure our souls (our souls are not in peace, because of the guilt, which we have accu-mulated by our evil deeds). Lead us get cured, instead of denying the Creator, who loves us and wants to cure us.

    Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and a person of the Holy Trinity, born by the virgin Mary, has borne our sins on the cross. Believe it and get baptized (infant baptism is valid and mustn't be repeated). By faith and baptism the power of Jesus death and resurrection is dedicated to you. At baptism your old man of sin dies and you resurrect together with Jesus (this is a spiritual mystery, but reality). God makes you indeed righteous through faith. You don't indeed get a ticket to heaven, but the capabilty to live The Christian Life or the Good Life. Through Jesus you become able to love God, the Almighty, and your neighbour (next-door neighbour, classmate, workmate, etc.). Start to prove that God has given you divine righteousness: Love God and your neighbour! The Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew 5-7) shows, what love means, in every detail.

    Practical Christianity: Read the book "The Cost of Discipleship" by pastor Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    Side effect of a Christian life: Everything, which you experience, is under God's control.

    There will be no more anxiety, but peace.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Michael

      Are you talking aboutr Islam or terrorism? Islam is a religion of peace and most of its practicioners are peaceful folks just trying to make it through life with their families just like christians, Buddhists or other beliefs.
      Thank goodness, in America, we have a choice. I respect others beliefs. I think, even with all the bad crap that happens in the world, that there is a lot more good stuff that happens. I have high hopes for the world.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Michael

      How about reading the Koran (Muhammad's instruction of aggressive war against alleged infidels)?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • GetAGrip

      I'd be more concerned about a global, half-century pedophilia coverup by one of the most powerful organizations in the world than profanity.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • dt

      Well, I guess I am confused – what you describe is heroin for the masses. I guess it is OK if people decide to be drugged into acceptance by chemicals or unprovable beliefs. To me, the real issue here is that a religion – right or wrong, true or false – is deciding to kill someone who does not believe the unprovable. That is asinine. For a reality check, there is a Christian religious sect here that believes the same way – Dominionists. This sect, who listens to the teachings of Rushdoony have believers in the likes of 2 current presidential hopefuls. This is what people should understand when we read of this kind of barbaric stupidity – when religion becomes government then the rule of law and morality crumbles. Believe anything you want but don't impose it on others.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • GetAGrip

      Um, and Rainer, have you ever read the Bible? You know, with the smashing of infants' heads with rocks and the raping of women and whatnot? Most holy books read as anything but. Take off your blinders.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Sam.DCS

      Well said Rainer...Let's comapre what you just stated to self proclaimed Christians in politics, whom among them including the President actually come close to "Christian faith"? I pick Obama, because every time he's called most outrageous names or criticized, is like a slap on his check, guess what? He turns the 2nd check knowing what is at stake for any future minority be it Hispanic, Chinese or anyone in between, to be a Presidential candidate. Bachmann should not call her a christian or claimed to have any christian's values, heh, what do I know, I'm just a Christ loving guy, and for the record I'm not passing judgment I'm just saying I'm ashamed of her actions.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Fred1

      By your definition, since I do not believe in god or a soul, I must behave like a beast. This is wrong for example I would never stoop down to lying, cheating and thieving life style of televangelists or mega church pastors ( I would be happy to provide a long list of examples on request)

      September 30, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  9. William Demuth

    Does anyone else see the irony in this.

    Having watched my country, the greatest country the world has ever known, slowly sliding down the slope towards becoming a police state itself I had a tragic belly laugh when I read this.

    We as a nation now torture people,
    we are engaged in at least three hot wars and six or seven cold ones
    we regularly hold people without charge for extended periods

    September 30, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  10. ModernMan

    I made a decision a long time ago to devote my life to Christ. What that means is that I am living like He lived, loving like He loves. I don't spread fear or condemntation of anyone for any life choices they make or their makeup as human beings. I love them. I love you, just as I love my own kids. If that makes me a bad person in your eyes, then I am confused, but understand that everyone has differing viewpoints. I refuse to pass judgement on another for any reason. It is not my place to judge sin, or sinners. We are all sinners, myself included, and no sin is greater or lesser than another. God loves us all equally, whether you believe in Him or not. Take it for what it's worth, but please don't ever think that I, as a Christian, am shoving anything down anyone's throat. I am just living the way I believe we should live. Peace out.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Chuckles

      You mean you're an itinerrant jewish rabbi/carpenter who wanders the desert passing out bread, preaching what you think the jews should do and walking on water?

      Also I'll start believing the "I don't shove this down your throat" stuff when the christian lobby stays out of the govenment and stops trying to hinder global warming, evolution, and really any sort of advance in our country.

      Peace.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Kathy

      Nobody's asking you to believe. We're just asking you to stop attacking us.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Kathy

      Was that directed at me or Modern?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • bbea

      You mean the "theory" of global warming or the "theory" of evolution... Get me some facts and maybe I'll jump on board. Until then you can keep chasing your "theories". And before you start spewing what you consider "facts" about these things to me make sure that they are not "theories" that you consider to be "fact". If that is the case then you are wasting yours and my time. Many questions and holes abound in both of these theories. Not touting religion here just always get annoyed when people assume scientific theory as factual science. Keep the two seperate.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • GetAGrip

      Yeah, bbea...like the "theory" of gravity. Please do yourself a favor and look up the definition of a scientific theory.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Chuckles

      @GetAGrip

      Thanks, reading that post hurt me on the inside a little bit....

      September 30, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • FifthApe

      bbea failed grade school science. Does not even know the term theory and how it applies to science! LOL

      September 30, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  11. EternalBliss

    Where are the so called "Shia of Ali"?!?!?!?!?! .... Mr. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader ... do these actions reflect the nature or beliefs of the man known as Imam Ali ?!?!?!? You should all be ashamed of yourselves!!!

    September 30, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. War of the imaginary men in the sky

    Am I really living on a planet where people kill each other for worshipping different imaginary friends?? WAKE UP PEOPLE!! fairy tales aren't worth dying for!!

    September 30, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • ModernMan

      If we give up our right to worship and believe what we choose, then what? You say a fairy tale is not worth dying for, but the principle behind it certainly is. I would die before I would recant... So would this man. Any man.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • War of the imaginary men in the sky

      if you choose to die for 2000 year old myths...then says a lot about you! try to call up your sanity...it misses you!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Whatever

      In the end, I would rather live and die as if there is a God and find out that there isn't than to live as if there is no God and find out that there is. If you chose not to believe in a higher power, than so be it; but you have no place attacking the beliefs of others.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  13. James Kimble

    No matter the outcome, I admire this man for his faith and his stand.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • FifthApe

      Hes nuts. Iran is nuts. All over which invisibly sky daddy is real. Insanity......

      September 30, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Praveen

      Well done Good and Faithful servant...Enter thou into the inheritance of the father!!Thank God for his grace sustaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani ..Thank you Jesus!!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Riiiiiight

      @FifthApe "sky daddy" lol

      September 30, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  14. Walter

    Christianity has the most barbaric and violent track record in world history, any body that says otherwise is in denial. Islam is peaceful compared to Christianity's track record. @Rainer Braendlein
    you know those verses out of context, you can do that with the Bible too and that's why the Bible has been used to justify slavery, white supremacy, conquest after conquest, and the white man's burden in Africa

    September 30, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Jordan

      Understand world and religious history before making claims like this. Also try and wrap your mind around the idea that religion is often the scapegoat for secular greed. Read a book. It helps.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  15. d

    Note to US, Iran said the US was barbaric if they executed Troy Davis. Guess what, they did. It hurts when you look in the mirror and see your own reflection doesnt it. Pot/Kettle anyone

    September 30, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • agathokles

      I'm against the death penalty. That said, there's a huge difference between executing a man convicted of murder (Davis) and executing a man convicted of believing Jesus is the Son of God. You don't see that?

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

      Idiot, Troy Davis was a convicted criminal. This man is nothing more than a Martyr, standing up for what he believes in.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • claybigsby

      LOL how you can compare the US judicial system to Iran's is beyond me....two completely different situations.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. FifthApe

    Religion is a virus of the mind. This is proof of that on both sides.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  17. ModernMan

    I love how the people who are critical of religion, specifically Christianity, all seem to scream that Christians are "shoving their religion down our throats", yet they show up on these threads looking to pick a fight. It is ridiculous. If you do not believe in Christ, God, religion and faith, get the hell out of here and go spread your BS elswhere. No one needs your immature rhetoric. No one.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • FifthApe

      The BS – is *your* religion.

      Definition of Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • William Demuth

      I am more mature and more educated than you.

      It is YOUR childish supertstions that are no longer needed.

      Please die, and go then go nowhere.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • claybigsby

      "If you do not believe in Christ, God, religion and faith, get the hell out of here and go spread your BS elswhere."

      THIS

      September 30, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Carrie

      Tolerance of other people's beliefs not only indicate a higher level of intelligence, but a greater level of maturity.

      You are free to not believe in anything. If I believe in something, that doesn't make me any less intelligent than you, nor does it make me a bad person. In fact I think my faith keeps me humble.

      Religious belief and intelligence aren't even in the same ballpark. I can't believe people are still trying to make that tie.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Joel

      Intolerant minds are nearly always hypocritical.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Fred1

      Down our throats
      Then get your god off our money and out of our pledge.
      Get your religion out of the presidential campaign, abortion law and stem cell research.
      Stop trying to enforce your religious dogma on the rest of us through civil law .

      September 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  18. JoJo

    We only have the illusion of freedom of religion here in America, because if you aren't Christian, you're Satan.

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

      Really? Where did you get that from? I have never heard anything like that in all my years and I am a Christian. Sounds like you are one of those big-mouthed crackpots that likes to try and pick fights.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • d

      Modern, you havent heard that cause uhh, like you said, you are a christian

      September 30, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • textom

      I'm sorry, but that is an inaccurate, delusional statement. I have many Jewish friends, I know many Muslim Americans and I associate with many atheists as well. This country was built on freedom of religion and that right is apparent in our country today.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Fred1

      @Moden: google Google John Calvin, a major Christian historical figure and with very similar “big-mouthed crackpot” views that liked to “pick fights” and burn people who disagreed with him at the stake

      September 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  19. Messenger

    "Those who are merciful have mercy shown them by the Compassionate One, if you show mercy to those who are in the earth, He Who is in heaven will show mercy to you." - Prophet Muhammad

    September 30, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • William Demuth

      I hear Muhammed called his swanza "Mercy"

      In that context your posting makes sense.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Joel

      Did he write that before or after he chopped the fingers off of infidels, murdered, r@ped, and pillaged?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    @William Demuth

    Both first names, Adolf and Muhammad, should become disliked!

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

      And Jesus! Don't forget Jesus!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:19 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.