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. Fizzay

    I'm not a big religious person, but this man is very brave for standing up for what he believes in, even if he may be executed for his belief. Very admirable that people can stand up for their religion.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Prettygreenbird

      I agree. I'm not particularly religious myself, but I think all people should have the right to practice without fearing for their lives or being discriminated against. While the U.S. does not take people's lives away for practicing, this story should make us all pause to think about how some religious minorities are treated here.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • chuckt

      Prettygreenbird: Other religions are treated nicely here. The only religion that's treated bad is Christianity. We even have groups (ACLU) that their their reason for being is to remove anything to do with Jesus from schools, work, public places and next they will remove from our homes. You never hear of them taking up for any christian's, but you do hear them taking up for Islam. Hmmmm kind of makes you think...huh

      September 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • J.W

      The ACLU is to defend anyone who they think may be treated unfairly. A Muslim in this country is more likely to be treated unfairly than a Christian.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  2. Aaron L.

    What's the pope say about this?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • 8 year olds dude

      If it's not a pre-pubescent boy he's not interested.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Aaron L.


      September 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  3. Mohammad

    Something ain't right about this story, 2% of Iran's people are not Muslims which is more than 1.6 million people. They are Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. So why this pastor in specific?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • antichrist i am

      american agent

      September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Charles

      You are unable to openly practice and being open about not being islamic tends to lead on the law finding ways to go after you. After all this is the same country that executed and tortured communist leaders that assisted them in gaining control of the country when they objected to having a religious state.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Truth

    There isn't a more intolerant group of people on the planet than Muslims like this. Christians have a narrow focus on the Bible, but at least they care for your soul and want you to believe and join them in eternity...not kill you.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • antichrist i am

      tell that to 200.000 killed muslims,dead because of crusaders' assault

      September 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Dan

      You've obviously never tried to live in the south as an atheist.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Truth

      Did you miss the "on the planet" part? In 2011 Muslims are killing thousands of innocent people for not agreeing with them, and beating women to death for driving cars.

      Please don't compare Islam to Christianity.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • freedom5071

      the crusades were years upon years ago idiot. Christianity is a very compassionate religion, unlike some factions in Islam. Truthfully if you do your research, the crusades were mostly about obtaining natural resources and treasures. I believe your screen name says it all anti-Christ.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • BEAR

      I'd like to speak my mind of what I think of Mohamed and his Cult but they would probably come over and cut my head off with a knife. That seems to be their solution to everytihing. Everyone should see the videos available online of pious muslims slowly cutting innocent peoples heads off with dull knives as they scream, moan then gurgle.. The Nazis were merciful in comparison!

      September 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • sumday

      at antichrist- you are either trolling or don't know history. The crusades were in direct response to Muslism attacking and killing everyone who didn't agree with them- Christians took it upon themself (even though no where in the bible does it say to do such things) and did the exact same thing the Muslisms were doing in an effort to stop them. Christians started peacefully for 100's of yrs, Islam started by killing everyone who didn't believe and never really stopped.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • CJP

      The crusades actually had nothing to do with Christianity. It is a misnomer to call them the crusades. Corrupt governments enforced conformity using religion as a tool. If anyone is still convinced it has to do with Christianity, then please point to a New Testament scripture as proof. "Hate your enemies and kill those that persecute you"??? No, it actually teaches "Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you".

      September 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  5. Doc Vestibule

    "It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics."
    – Robert Heinlein

    September 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  6. ray

    ah yes allah is great. muhammad is great. come join our peace loving religion where christians are executed in iran and in saudia arabia women are stoned for driving a car ! and dont forget to always carry our great book with you.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Truth


      September 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  7. hippypoet


    you said "You have some of the most peculiar ideas I've ever heard. I just can't understand how anyone could think like you do."

    would you like to ask a question that i can answer? because i can't understand how i think like this either.. it has bogelled the minds of my teachers and parents and friends alike. but i have always been this way, and enjoy it. i can and do find the most outlandish comparions ever don't I. its something i cherrish!

    September 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  8. mfx3

    We should all be so lucky as to die for what we believe in. Patrick Henry regretted that he could only do it once, after all. So this doesn't sound so bad.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Xman

      Such heroic comments, fit for a bathroom stall, perhaps. I guess that idea is fine until it's you who is put up against a wall in front of a firing squad, right? Lucky. Sure.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Histerical

      Nathan Hale

      September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  9. Asian

    Only 'infidels pigs' would call other humans infidels. Those people are 'cowards' and hypocrits.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  10. LC

    I am a Christian who finds no incompatibility with my faith and my career in science and I respect the right of others not to believe or to believe differently. But this is not what the discussion is about. AN INNOCENT MAN IS GOING TO BE PUT TO DEATH. " His "crime" is non-conformity. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". Decent human beings -of any faith or of no failth- have the moral responsibility to speak/act against this egregious sentence. I hope and pray that Iran will spare him and his congregants (not mentioned but he is a pastor which would suggest he has them) even if it just another one of their window-dressing "goodwill" gestures.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Truth


      September 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  11. hippypoet

    look, lets make it simple-- dude is in another country, enough said. but if you feel the need -murder is a crime here, there its a crime not to be that type of religion, again – each country has its own laws that MUST be followed – or you face the penelty. done – thats logic no matter how illogical the crime or punishment is!

    September 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Charles

      Sovereignty is one thing, but allowing people to be dehumanized and killed simply for having a different opinion is very much another. This is not a war in which people are fighting, this is simply one man believing something different then another man and not affecting anyone. Do you argue that Germany had the right to put jewish people in concentration camps because that was their law?! Your logic is way flawed and absurd. Read the social contract.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • L

      "Hippy Poet" – there are indeed laws here. Like not smoking pot. Which it appears from your writing you might be doing. When you come back to earth you might realize that murder is murder everywhere and certainly not on the same plane as belief/unbelief. There used to be segregation laws. Do you think we should have continued to obey them because they were "law"?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Hippies stink.

      Worst poem ever. Also, if you're going to call yourself a poet you should think about a remedial writing course. Your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are atrocious as, I imagine, are your underwear.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @Charles my logic may be flawed by your arguement is as well, for one to argue jews at the time of hitler one must understand that the laws they were forced into camps by were made by an ultimate govner-ship, a grp of powerful men making the rules up as they go... different from this issue as the man in the article had the choice to be a citizen of that county and execpt his fate as a non conformist or leave the country or even swap out noe faith for another. The laws of that land are pretty much the same as in the time of joshua so he knew exactly what he was doing. i feel nothing for him. this is he own doing. now its time for him to die as he choose to live.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @Hippies stink

      i will write as i see fit. and yes some of us do have an odor. usually incense.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Hippies stink.

      And poop. Don't forget poop.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @Hippies stink.

      would you like a poem to properly judge me as a poet and hippy?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • I'm Sorry, What?!?!

      That is one of the most illogical and poorly thought out arguments I have had the misfortune of reading. And believe me, I've read many on the CNN discussion boards. You can't be serious about this, can you? Country A: "You're a different religion, so you must die." Country B: "Hey, whatever floats your boat, Country A. Even though you've signed agreements that state you won't do this type of thing, it really isn't our business. So, have at it!"

      September 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Charles

    By "Religion of Peace", Islam means that after everyone has converted and they have killed off anyone who disagrees there will be peace. OOOPS Wrong again because then they have kill off the Sufi Muslims who are persecuted and then the Shia and Sunni have to fight it out. I guess it just means when everyone is dead there will be peace. Religion of Peace, Ha what a joke.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  13. J. Mike

    Since everyone wants everyone else to look stuff up, I say we all look up Laminin. None of us would be alive without Laminin. It's the glue that holds this physical mass togather. Once you get done reading about it, do a Google search for a picture of it.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • reader1

      Please stay on topic

      September 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • RichieP

      You should look at the moon. It takes on the appearance of a cresent before and after every new moon, so the Muslims must be right.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • chuckt

      Reader1, that is the topic. The one true God is in the bible and he is what we should all belive in. We tend to respond in hate with this, but maybe we should respond in all christians standing up for what they believe in and what ever happens, then it does. If he is a true christian , then death will only bring him into the presence of our loard and savior. What's worse staying alive in this eveil world or being in glory for eternity? We don't kill in our God's name, but we should love and pray for those who do not belive andnever deny our belief for no one.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • J. Mike

      Richie if we lived on the moon and the moon held everything in our bodies together I would be more likely to agree with your premise. However, Laminin is the glue, and coincidentially or not it happens to be shaped like a cross. Who would have thought that something shaped like a cross would hold our biological masses together? Perhaps God? Maybe we should look to the lesson of the cross as an example of how we should live our lives and treat each other. Alas many can't grasp this concept. Hopefully that was more on topic for you.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  14. zoundsman

    Good grief! Every day, the religious divide gets more pronounced with countries, people, politics.
    I'm glad I'm going to drop dead and leave all of this behind. Can one see outside the Pearly Gates,
    across the clouds to see the other faiths chilling in their "Heavens?"...OMG, I can see one heaven's
    angels playing bongos and a Chinese Lyre !???

    September 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  15. Gene Brady

    Death at the hands of the religious fanatics, whether they are Jews, Christians or Muslims is a fact of life. It has been going on since the beginning....... up till this point, no one has learned a thing. Religions kill. Religions oppress. Religions stifle thought and reason. This is why there is SUPPOSED to be separation between Church and State. Religion is very dangerous.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Toby

      Great comment! I wish more people exercised reason and common sense and criticized religion like this. Peace.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Ceri

      On the other hand, religion promotes understanding, compassion, love and justice, as well as clothing and feeding millions around the world each year. Religion is very dangerous to the hateful, the bigoted and the selfish. It all depends on whether your glass is half full or half empty I guess.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • GodisGreat

      Ceri...GREAT POINT! Religion is good...people that kill in the name of God obviously are reading a different book than I am.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Tom

      And the state has never done what religion has done. Yep, makes sense.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jenna

      Religion in and of itself does none of those things...it is the people who twist the religions for their own personal gain. There seem to be two camps...the super self-righteous and the humble. Religion can be a good thing for those that embrace the love and peace, but it can be bad as evidenced by the fanatics around the world who think they know best for everyone.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • gay republican

      Thats a lie, american christians dont kill muslims who wont convert to christ, u cant compare christianity to a cult religion (that blows up women children men on a daily basis in bomb attacts on innocent people

      September 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Coug9

      In the majority of cases, PEOPLE kill.....not religion. Some religions have more "fanatics" (obviously Islam.....), but it is still the individual that is doing the killing. They just use religion to justify their murder.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  16. Doug

    He must be a relative of Jimmy durantee. doug.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  17. KC

    Once again the religion of peace rears its ugly head.......
    So how about another lecture on how tolerant Islam is......

    September 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  18. jay in florida

    Islam is a great faith... .it is a religion of peace. Don't forget that.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Amazigh

      It depends on the interpretations of Coran. But I beleive that Muslims made Islam a religion of Intgolerance.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • reader1

      Did you even read the article?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Keydet

      It was not until Muhammad received revelation from Allah that Muslim people could violently attack the tourists visiting Mecca that Islam began to grow. Before Muhammad gave divine approval to kill for Allah Islam was not growing.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • chuckt

      Islam is not a faith, but is a cult. Never forget it.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Coug9

      "Religion of Peace"?.........blowing people to bits in market places, flying airplanes into buildings, puting peoples of other faith to death, "DEATH TO INFIDELS!!!".......... very peaceful.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  19. Charles

    Islam is the self proclaimed religion of peace by its followers who say that a society ran by Islamic law is not intolerant. Funny because all places run by Islamic laws are some of the most oppressive places in the world. Islam is the religion of intolerance.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  20. chris

    Iran should be sanctioned or removed from the United Nations immediately!

    September 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • LUNA

      maybe the face of this earth?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • AllahisGay

      AGREED! Nuke their smelly @sses

      September 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Coug9

      And we not only allow their President to speak at the U.N., our universities hold a dinner for him!!!!! He should not be allowed to even set foot in the U.S., and the U.N. should shun him completely!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
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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.