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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. Russell

    Dear God Creator. Why take so long to end this abomination

    September 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  2. K How

    I'm praying for this pastor. I read this story and then a friend called me to ask me to pray for "and Iranian man who is being told to convert or die." I'm also praying for those people who are reading this and wondering what the big deal is. My God is not a fairy tale. He is powerful and infinite.
    K How

    September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Russell

      Prayer is overrated and not a commandment in Torah

      September 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Fred1

      If your god is “powerful and infinite” are your prayers not being answerd? Why is he totally imp0tent to help his proclaimed servant or does he need to add another martyr to his collection?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  3. The Jimster

    @Lexxvs another religious argument...pitiful...to both theists and atheists...
    sometimes I hate having to be the bigger person all the time...damn

    September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  4. Facepalm28

    @Lexxvs I don't know that Christianity is quite over some of its medieval barbaric customs either. After all, many Christian religious authorities still seem to think it's apostasy to believe in scientific facts like evolution (not much change from the days of Galileo). Honestly, while I fully acknowledge the positive contribution of religion in providing a comprehensive framework of moral values, I don't see why a supreme being, an established clergy, or a rigid doctrine are required along with it. Personally, I don't believe in any supreme being (the concept never made any sense to me) and I tend to dislike religious establishements, but I still try to be the most honest, moral person I can be because I believe it's the best thing for me and those I interact with. I simply choose to be guided by my own level of objectivity and open-mindedness rather than a set religious doctrine. I also feel that there's an inherent problem anytime imperfect human beings have the opportunity to couch their beliefs as divine will. The few times I've considered the concept of a supreme being, I've always come to the conclusion that on the off chance one does exist, it would be the height of arrogance for us to claim we could know it's will.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      Like drinking the blood of their god? lol

      September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  5. Antonio Almaguer

    I am glad there are christians willing to die for their convictions.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  6. Sean Russell

    Let them kill him. America has murder thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians, and in return CNN simply posts a 3 sentence story about it as if it was nothing. What does one christian's death mean when coalition forces are killing hundreds of non-christian civilians a day.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Good for him.

      You can't even come up with an original comment? How american of you.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • gay republican

      U are a liar

      September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  7. Nilly

    Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, Kill, kill, the christian way

    September 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Ken

      die die die die die die die die. It's all they know in Iran.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • cnn for pres

      That makes no sense. The majority of assistance in America, that is not tax supported, comes from Christian groups. You know, the ones who hand out food to the poor, shelter to the homeless, clothes to those that need them. This guy has done NO WRONG to you or anyone you know! Your hatred is unjustified and you spew death.....hmmm does someone need counseling???

      September 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  8. Sean Russell

    Welcome to America's future, if Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, et al. get elected, along with their tea party wing-nuts. If you're not a fundamentalist christian- you'll be given 2 choices: conversion or death. I used to think deportation would be a choice, but after seeing the GOTP's blood-lust for death; I doubt they'd give us that option.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Nilly

      I take death!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Bob

      You're a fool.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • gay republican

      Liberals are the ones who hate and would kill christians in a second, u are a liar sir

      September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Liberals are the ones who hate and would kill christians in a second, u are a liar sir"

      THIS GUY IS A MORON! So there are no liberal christians? bhahahaha...Ignorance is bliss.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  9. Good for him.

    Let them kill him. America has murder thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians, and in return CNN simply posts a 3 sentence story about it as if it was nothing. What does one christian's death mean when coalition forces are killing hundreds of non-christian civilians a day.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bob

      This is an evil statement. This man was simply preaching a religion he believes in. What nut cases there are here at this site.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Good for him.

      And the families that the forces, which you so vehemently support, kill are simply trying to live their lives and provide for their families.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      He's being killed for having a different belief than them. This is disgusting! Would you kill your neighbor for having a different belief than you? This is no different in the grand scheme of it!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Good for him.

      If he was a christian, yes. Yes, in fact I would.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  10. indigo

    Quite appalling that the Iranian regime would execute this man simply for refusing to recant the religion he grew up in. There must be something else that got them so upset - he looks like he is practicing the religion of peace that is not called Islam.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  11. Nilly

    He looks guilty like most christians do

    September 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • K How

      What does that even mean?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      shut up!! How is it you figures he deserves to die?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  12. banlin

    Listen up! this is how Islam protects and expand itself all the claim that Islam was spread by peace that people convert voluntarily are false as evidence of this, imagine how many more Christians have been murder gone reported. Stay away from Islam, liberate all Muslims from Islam let them be Iranians, Iraqis, Saudis, Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Malaysians, etc. and not Muslims.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "liberate all Muslims from Islam let them be Iranians, Iraqis, Saudis, Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Malaysians, etc. and not Muslims."

      what you really mean is "convert all people who dont believe in christianity into christianity"....garbage.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Punjab83

    Religion...

    September 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Jim P.

    Odd, this sort thing used to be just fine in Christianity: Convert or die (and in some cases it was "convert and die a less nasty death than what we plan if you *don't* convert because you are still a nasty person as far as we are concerned").

    Amazing how it is Ok if it's *your* God: "God wills it!" but never quite so much fun when *their* god wants it done to you.

    Religion is just silly except you all keep killing each other to show how much you love peace and how loyal you are to your invisible friend in the sky.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Nilly

      So many have die because of christian barbarians – their ghosts speak now

      September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Justifying this is outrageous. Sorry, comparisons don't work.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Sorry, no excuses for this atrocity

      September 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Hannah

      Are you seriously arguing because of historical abuses in the name of Christianity this guy should die? It doesn't matter that Iran is executing him because of his religious beliefs?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • mif991

      True. There was a christian religion that condemned christians to death for deviating from their "holy teachings" and the same religious zealots went after muslims during the Cruzades hundreds of years ago. You are implying this is some type of payback, and you are okay with this? Such a nice guy you must be.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Mark

      Yeah Jim cause (TODAY"S) Chrisitans should all be responsible for what happened hundred of years ago. Let's keep blaming all white people for slavery too and that was more recent. People like you make America racist and spread hate for no reason. Get some counseling.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  15. David M

    Nothing about this is a surprise. It's Iran. What else would you expect from them?

    September 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  16. Yakobi.

    Bush was right (as usual)–Iran and North Korea are truly the Axis of Evil.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Mark

      Everyone gives Bush a bad name but he knew what he was doing. We will see this in the years too come that he actually was a good president.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  17. Bill

    The radical Islamists are no different than Hitler-exterminate anyone who does not agree with their idiology or anyone who does not convert. Islam may be a religion of peace, but the world had better wake up to what is happening or we will all be living under Shia Law and wondering "how did this happen?"

    September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  18. Willy

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPn-_Hmvd2A&w=640&h=390]

    September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  19. hippypoet

    if your still here... @ David Johnson

    @hippypoet

    You said: "i am no believer at all but i must correct a misunderstanding when i see it."

    Okay, so comment on this:
    There were no eyewitness accounts of Jesus. The Gospels were written by god knows who in the third person. The Gospels were written with an agenda i.e., Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God.
    We know virtually nothing about the persons who wrote the gospels we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
    -Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, (The Gnostic Gospels)

    The bottom line is we really don't know for sure who wrote the Gospels.

    thats what you said, now for me – we were talking about proof of joshua, not the gospels... i agree with you on the topic, the writers of the gospels were most definitly not the ones named, matthew john luke and mark... the closest we have come to answers these is the dead sea scrolls, they give us insight into the time and the orginal authors of the stories.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • gay republican

      Dear God and Jesus, savior of mankind, save this pastor from barbaric muslims and evil hateful ungodly radical liberals

      September 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • GOD AND JESUS

      gay republican
      first you are totally going to hell, next –

      HELL NO! let him burn! i love a bon-christ fire... sry son,

      no worries daddy!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      Jesus lied – many have died

      September 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  20. Average Uninformed Obese American

    He might as well convert. Trading one fairy tale for another looks like the sane thing to do...

    September 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • gay republican

      Read ur bible, its true, ALLAH IS A FAKE GOD WHO WANTS HIS PEOPLE TO MURDER EVERYBODY, WHAT A SICK CULT

      September 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • EL

      Fairy tale? So ones faith is just a joke to you? So much for tolerance. ( Oh wait, Now I know who what you are. A TROLL)

      September 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • David

      Some people actually believe in something other than food. Your moniker fits you.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Bill

      Whether you agree with that person or not, that is not justification for killing them. What would happen if American started a "jihad" against all Muslims living here just because we may or may not agree with their beliefs? (Notice I did not say religion.)

      September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Ron789

      Why do you need to call someone's faith a fairy tale? This is very important to some people. To call it a fairly tale implies that you think people with faith in something are idiots. I'm a smart guy AND I believe in God. How do you explain the vastness and size and complexity of the universe? It just popped out of nowhere? Is what scientists tell you about the craziness of the universe a fairy tale too?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Frank

      I believe you miss the entire point of religious freedom. Mr. Nadarkhani should have the freedom to believe in Christianity, Islam, or the Smurfs if he wants to. While you should have the right to believe in nothing if that is what you choose. However, if you want others to respect your lack of belief, you have to in turn show the same respect for others' beliefs without ridiculing or mocking them. But then, perhaps you know more than everyone else. I am guessing you find yourself in that position all the time.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      EL
      he called your religion a fairy tale. He didn't call for your death, like so-called 'peaceful' Christians like to do. Stop playing the victim, when you're part of the majority. Nobody wants to stop you from going to church. You seem very intent on stopping people from not believing.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ron789

      Sean Russell, where did EL seem intent on stopping people from not believing? He or she was simply pointing out that someone's faith should not be made into a joke. You believe what you want and I will do the same but don't make a joke of something that is so important to some people. IGNORANT.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
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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.