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. Willy

    I can't wait for armegedon

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


    The true religion, science? Science is a human endeavor. The more scientists dig, the more they find they know and understand so little about the universe and human existence.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Greg s

      Science without religion is Lame, Religion without science is Blind!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  3. sumday

    any religion that tells you to kill another human bc they don't believe what you tell them is a lie. Does G-d need your help to destroy what "he" created? Did G-d come and personally tell you to kill people or are you killing people bc some guy who died 1600yr ago told you to do so? Today we know people who hear voices and see things are crazy and have a mental problem- they are not prophets sent from G-d, but mentally ill. If there is a G-d 1 person will stand before them as a victim and another as a killer- I wonder how G-d will respond when the killers says well someone I never met told me to kill for you so I did. If G-d did create only he has the right to kill, and if G-d didn't directly speak to you than you are acting on your own. Besides that G-d never ever even talked to Mohammad it was an angel that spoke to him, so they can't even say well you told Mohammad this- bc G-d didn't tell him anything. Not all sprits/angels are good and tell the truth so how do these Muslims know/trust that this angel who spoke to Mohammad was really speaking for G-d? Mohammad himself was not sure of the true nature of the angel, and yet many still kill over it.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  4. Joel

    So what's holy war in America called?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Willy


      September 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  5. Willy

    Islam is an honest religion that shows disliking to Christianity and Judaism

    September 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  6. Joel

    We have problems galore here. Let's go and condemn one guy in one country we are just itching to take out. God, American politicians are the most arrogant, stupid, hateful idiots of the lot.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  7. Willy


    September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    hey guys and gals, i think sammy has something to say – sammy , you ready?


    blah blah blah

    good boy sammy, heres a cookie.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  9. Mindstorms

    Iran is a theocracy and according to their religious beliefs they must execute this man. They are doing it in the name of God. And that is the fundamental problem when you mix religion and politics. The Iranian people revolted against the harsh regime of the Shah and his secret police. In those days people were tortured and executed in the name of the Shah. Now they are executed and tortured in the name of God. I wonder if those who are tortured or executed think there is any difference?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Justin Observation

      When the people revolted against the Shah, the U.S. and British Intelligence agencies backed the Shah, this worked to destroy the people of Iran's attempt to become a democracy. Using the west's own propaganda and the evidence that the west was backing the Shah, Ahmadinejad was easily able to get the people to elect him supreme ruler for life.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  10. I'm The Best!

    Religion in general is one of the worse things to ever happen to the human race.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  11. Reality

    It is absolutely mind-boggling that this goes on in the modern world. And to think that this absurdity can be easily cured by the following:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    September 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Greg s

      Islam Is a religion based on what a Man said a angel taught him, I'm sorry but I'm not buying it! Sounds like he was on a Power trip! You have nothing to offer as Proof that What Mohammad had to say is the truth other then you believe it! I think you should take your Myth and peddle it elsewhere!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  12. r-hope

    Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  13. john

    This Pastor stands taller than muhammad himself!.....a true hero of humanity......

    September 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Willy

      I eat pastor with meat balls

      September 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  14. xnysmokie

    Willy did your parents have any kids that lived?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  15. Greg s

    Isn't Islam the religion Of Peace, Love and Tolerance. I must be missing something here! Remember folks these are the same people we are inviting into our country based on there Peace love and Tolerance.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Mindstorms

      Good people do good things and bad people do bad things. It takes religion for good people to do bad things.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  16. JOE

    You need to check your orientation pally. Then you can speak.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  17. Pliny

    Where's your god now, Moses?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • gay republican

      Getting ready to strike u dead for being a parasite

      September 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  18. Mikej

    I think it is fair what Iran is doing. Make sure in the united states all converts to Islam are killed this would be equitable and what is this about your parents being Muslims so you can't be Christian. By the way this guy really looks dangerous if you call a bunny rabbit dangerous. I think the sham of Muslim countries is finally unraveling. Hate is as hate does. They don't want a true Christian martyr on their hands. Not these fake martyr bomb murderers.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  19. zybernet

    They will be punished severely, their deeds are not going unnoticed, these fanatics are the devil's disciples and anyone who follows them are being deceived by the devil himself, this Christian should not fear, his redemption is very near, what these Iranian clerics don't know is that by executing him, they have lost a soul for hell but a soul has been won for Heaven, so in this battle, this is a Victory for God.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Fred1

      Just another imp0temt threat about an imp0tent god

      September 29, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  20. Lexxvs

    No matter how many disguises you want to try over Islam to make it look like a modern day civilized religion. The fact on the ground is that the struggles that lead Christianity to abandon their medieval barbaric customs didn’t happen in Islam and we see the consequences with this otherworldly news. I hope it doesn’t take centuries for them reach humanistic values. Or, who knows, maybe we end up following suit instead.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:46 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.