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. duh

    god, if there is one, wants him to die. lol

    September 30, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Barry G.

      May the Lord rebuke you, Satan.

      September 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  2. Beka

    Who are we to talk when we have states who execute innocent people all the time.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Joel

      Yes, we kill people convicted of actual crimes. Wrong as it is. This man is being killed for a religion, which we do not do.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • William Demuth


      To kill for ANY reason is wrong.

      Do NOT believe our "reasons" are any more legitimate than theirs.

      If we actually practiced what we preached, it might be a different story, but I can ASSURE you for any Jew or Christian killed by Muslims, the Jews and Christians have killed THOUSANDS.

      All life is important, not just Christians.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Gort01


      September 30, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • William Demuth


      Do you REALLY believe the government would go "Whoops, my bad"?

      Our former President wont even admit invading Iraq and killing hundreds of thousands of people in pursuit of WMD's that didn't exist was a mistake.

      So do you REALLY think if they fried the wrong black guy in Texas they would admit it?

      They would say, "Well maybe he didn't do this one, but we KNOW the n1gger did something"!

      September 30, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Joel

      @William – You can assure me on the exact numbers of people who have been killed by one religion vs another? Funny how you even seem to believe Christians have killed more than Muslims.. Seems like you are a bit biased by that statement, sir.

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


      We used to keep records in Vietnam

      Called em kill ratios. They were proud. Westmoreland got them EVERY morning. Some even took ears to PROVE how many they had killed (only lefts so you couldn't get two beers for one dead VC)

      Nowadays it seems our government thinks 12,000 to one area ratios are now bad press.

      Find ANY legitimate estimation and the ratios are at a minimum several hundred to one.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  3. Cameron Jones

    At the end of the day, those people who can accept and respect that others think differently than them, and can realize that making generalizations about a race/religion/philosophy truly makes you ignorant, those are the people who are truly intelligent.

    Both sides of the religious debate have plenty of people who will sit there and play petty name calling games.. but overall it's the people who choose to live and let live that deserve an ovation. Anyone else is just as "stupid" as their neighbor.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. Frankly Speaking..

    I am a muslim and well-informed at that.. There is no "sharia law" that neccesiates death except if the person has killed somebody or is involved in mischeif on land (like grabbing someone else's land, looting, instigating riots and wars or torturing people etc).

    The right to freedom is guaranteed under the laws set by Islam and NOBODY can enforce their belief on ANYONE else, not even their own people bond by blood. This is barbaric and I hope Iran lets go off this man and let him practice and preach whatever he feels is right. While the muslim countries need to read their own history and get a better grasp of their religion the non-muslims countries should try not to meddle with the affairs of others unless it takes pitfalls like these

    September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  5. George Bush

    Just wipe Iran off the face of the earth already.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • djwazu

      You had your chance GB and you blew it!

      September 30, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Gort01

      and along with Iran, lets disinegrate Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and any other stone age country.....

      September 30, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  6. Bob

    Iran's culture, as with most Islamic-based cultures, are considered "barbaric" because they cling to ancient principles and actively reject secular influences. Executing a "Christian" pastor doesn't suddenly make it "barbaric". How many other people has Iran executed before this? It only makes it suddenly "barbaric" to Christians.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Gort01

      to call barbaric practices "cultural" really makes me sick. Stoning women, lashing women , etc etc...the list is endless.. Islam is not a religion, it is an organization run by men, for men to perpetrate hideous rules and regulations on women for the sake of their own disgusting pleasure.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Islam is not a religion, it is an organization run by men, for men to perpetrate hideous rules and regulations"

      Just like Christianity

      September 30, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  7. John

    This is how a frightened nation behaves. They pretend to be a significant member in international and regional politics, only they're not. It's amazing how every one's God wants them to murder, and spread suffering through the population they claim to be protecting.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  8. waves

    This is simply a travesty. Whether muslims get perscuted in our country, just for being muslim, or christians become persecuted in Iran just for being christian. Religion is such a screwed up concept, because in small groups it works well for cohesion, but when you apply it to larger groups it doesn't work at all. Even "Christians" and "Muslims" etc have their infighting when the group grows to large, because their various sects have arguments over what a true "Christian" or a true "Muslim" is.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  9. Jon

    Gasp! You mean MUSLIMS are behind this intolerance? You've got to be kidding me! But I thought they are innocent, peace loving people!

    Well maybe the peace loving ones are all in the US..but I bet they already have blogs and websites dedicated to how irate they are over this injustice! Right? I'm sure they are up in arms over this as they would be if we were burning their Koran, right? Let's see, let me search and see if I can find a site....searching........

    September 30, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • beeps


      September 30, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  10. hw

    The Iranian inquisition is well and alive in the 21st. C. The more we progress the more backward we become.
    This act by Iranian authorities is a way for Iran to keep itself in the eye of the world. The weirder the accusations, trials and executions the more publicity for Iran: Good, bad or indifferent. Once we begin to ignore Iran, it will slowly fade away and dissolve itself. The more credence the world gives Iran, the more it will resort to outrageous claims and other public stunts.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  11. bbea

    "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

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

      I should say Amen. But if they do this I hope they rot in hell.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  12. stacy100

    Why do we not hear an outcry from the Muslim population? They are always talking about how peaceful and loving their religion is. Where is the proof of that? The entire world should be in an uproar over this. I've already sent emails to the white house, house of reps, and senate regarding this. Pray and then take action.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • William Demuth


      It is IRAN killing the dude.

      Perhaps emails to THEM might be more logical?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  13. Dwl1845

    To SCAtheist. That still does not answer my question of what you would not turn your back on

    September 30, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  14. Fabio

    molinaafo, we are slaughtered everiday in a different way, it looks like your horizon is behind your eyes.
    dirkk, you cannot picture anything because you are a blid idiot!

    September 30, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  15. SCAtheist

    Where is the outcry for all the rest of the innocent people who get executed in Iran? Why is this guy so special?

    September 30, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  16. Shame on you

    This man may die for a belief that he feels he can not recant, and instead of respecting him, you ridicule him for what he believes. What has happened that a person can not choose to believe in Someone!!
    This article shows a brave man that is not delusional, and certainly, has a sure knowledge of Who is waiting for him when he dies, otherwise he would recant to save his life.
    Whether you believe like he does or not, all of you, who have turned this into "let's insult Christian's for what they believe blog", should be ashamed of yourselves!!!
    You have turned what should be respected into your own personal diatribe. It's disgusting.
    No person has the right to insult and ridicule someone for what they believe. That goes for everyone regardless of your belief system.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • SCAtheist

      You're a big baby. We can criticize any religion we want.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • William Demuth

      So if he gets a new life whats the big deal if we kill him?

      Perhaps crucufuction would be a suitable form of executuion?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Shame on you

      @ SCAtheist..To criticize is one thing, belittling, insulting, ridiculing, is something different all together. Just like calling someone a big baby and you don't even know who I am

      September 30, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • djwazu

      No person has the right to insult and ridicule someone for what they believe. That goes for everyone regardless of your belief system. I disagree with that notion. But to execute this guy for is belief is absolutely outrageous! Kick him out of the country but to take his life is just ridiculous and something should be done about it.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  17. Joel

    People who want to compare this man to Troy Davis are more than likely retarded, or possibly just high on crack. Troy Davis was a convicted of an actual crime, regardless of guilt. This man is convicted of being a Christian. Nothing more, nothing less, there shouldn't even be a question of "guilt" with this man, as there was no crime commited! In America, we preach tolerance and even have unique organizations formed to enforce the rights of individuals. Troy Davis had a chance at least, and saw his day in court with many failed appeals. This man, has no chance at all, and will not have a chance to appeal. He is a pawn for a vicious regime, waiting to be made an example of. I only hope they let him go so more of our servicemen and women don't have to be put in danger to whoop Iran's @ss.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • William Demuth


      I don't approve of what they ae doing, but do you believe the Evangelisim is a right?

      Christians attempt to convert others.

      Some societies consider that a crime. Just as we did with Communisim.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • stacy100


      The great commission is to" go forth and reach all nations"...Christians are suppose to try to convert non-believers....but I don't kill people who do not want to convert.....I pray for them....not kill them.

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

      @William – I agree that there may be some laws in place to keep societies in a certain "norm" of religious or societal beliefs, but execution as a punishment always seems to make the crime look harmless. The United States have many laws and societal beliefs in place that prevent this type of thing. We are allowing Muslims to build mosques here, and even a Mosque near the 9/11 site...yet the Muslims cannot tolerate Christianity enough to let this man live?

      September 30, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • William Demuth


      So your religion trumps their law.

      If it is illegal, it is illegal.

      Perhaps of Christians STOP the whole evangelical thing, they might leave them alone.

      Agitating dictatorial governments WILL have consequences.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • William Demuth


      It is their country.

      Executuon seems extreme, but the law is the law.

      Perhaps they should expell him?

      September 30, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Joel

      @William – That would be a far more appropriate punishment! Deportation! But even then, why don't we deport all the Muslims living here in the USA? If Iran wants to be our friend, they need to learn to play nice, or they will have to be put down.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • William Demuth


      We will war with them.

      I just hope when the time comes, we have the courage to win.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Joel

      @William – Eventually we will be forced into a war, I am sure. The funny thing is that the Bible actually predicted all of these wars would take place. I'm still a skeptic, but there's a part of me that kinda thinks "what if?" ya know. Cheers

      September 30, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  18. Rodney

    Could you imagine the international outcry if the US were to threaten to do this to peacefully practicing Muslim imams and clerics? Where is the international outcry on this pastor's behalf?

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

      You make a good point. What would the rest of the world say if the US decided to execute a Muslim or Buddhist for not converting to Christianity?

      September 30, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Talgrath

      Somebody didn't read the article. The US is complaining about it as are international organizations.

      September 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  19. Dwl1845

    I see several people post that to survive they would quickly change religions and that they do not believe in God. That is your belief and that is fine, but you sound like a coward who would probably turn on your mother just to survive. I wonder if there is anything you would not turn your back on in the name of surviving. Your country, family, friends?

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

      My mother is real – Christianity is a fairy tale.

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

      If they are so quick to recant their faith, they obviously had none to begin with. Cowards. Liars. The Bible speaks of people like this who will come to the father in the end and claim to know him, but he will rebuke them.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Dwl1845

      You cannot prove that

      September 30, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • waves

      I would tell the Iranians that I believe in Islam if it kept me a live. I would not turn any family members of mine in though. Religion is made up, so I am not to worried about it one way or the other. But as soon as I get a chance I would feel Iran and go somewhere I can by atheistic self and not live in fear. I would only go if I could get my family out of there as well, if they were trapped there, but frankly I don't think it is worth dying over, but family members are different, because they are real.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  20. watchful

    Our beliefs in God and Christ have always been attacked by low lifes and always will be.the Bible tells us this. Christians all over the world will be under attack by those who are of the devil. Some day,yes, some day EVERY knee will bow before God and be accountable for thier sins.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • William Demuth

      If I kneel before your God, it shall only be to get a better shot at punching him in his Palestinian nads,

      I spat on your delusion.

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


      September 30, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Joel

      @William – LOL, that is funny. But you know, Watchful could be right. You can't prove him wrong.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Rebel1990

      You're Delusional. Stop believing in fictional stories written by men who thought the world was flat.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:01 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.