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. Roy ce

    He doesn't look too upset for someone about to be executed.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  2. Krish

    I think this is highly idiotic. Killing a person because of what he believes and holds dear. Someone should do that to the Iranian president. "Convert or Die!"

    September 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Rich Fields

      man I am a muslim and love my religion...what in the world is Iran representing..where in the world did they get this from? Islam clearly states...religion is not a compulsion!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • gay republican


      September 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  3. Don't be sad

    Time to celebrate! A christian to meet his god – yipeee

    September 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • american

      Obviously you see yours in the mirror every day.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • gay republican

      Dont be sad, Jesus loves u, I dont know why though u are a freak

      September 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  4. The Jimster

    it funny the way both theists and atheists bombard religious articles like honey...@Ken they're all fools man...[atheist speaking]...
    dogma nor reason/science gives anyone the right to insult each other...thats why we'll never coexists...hurts man

    September 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  5. The one you have been waiting for

    Dear God. Lets GET IT ON!!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  6. Krish

    "Excecuted for being Christian." Kill this man, and Iran will have humiliated themselves and their barbaric, idiotic ideals to the world.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • The one you have been waiting for

      Sounds like every christians message on sunday

      September 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Krish

      "The One" Although I'm not a christian, I find Christians to be way more tolerant and accepting than Muslims or Jews. Athiests and budhist obviously dominate that field, but I'm not an athiest either.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  7. The one you have been waiting for

    Islam, Christianity and Judaism are all evil

    September 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • hippypoet

      "gods" are evil, therefore whorshipping any form of deity is evil! most living breathing humans are therefore evil!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Krish

      Religion is evil = belief in creation is evil = belief that somehow, we were put on earth is evil = science is evil = einstein is evil = nature is evil = walruses are evil = unicorns are evil = f the world.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • gay republican

      Jesus is not evil, he forgives idiots like u AND ME

      September 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Jesus is not evil, he forgives idiots like u AND ME"

      Yes, you are an idiot...this is certain.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  8. jls584a@yahoo.com

    Islam is EVIL.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  9. Krish

    Iran, what an idiotic society.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  10. hippypoet

    my thoughts of religion and religious people – wasted time and space and money... but further more – i view religious beliefs to be circling the drain and untill the final flush we will endure crap forced upon us in schools, at the super markets, at soccer games, and my personal most hated of all – family outtings! it infests, breeds confusion to our children, questions that can only be answered by making up more...just like santa clause – and yes there is no santa in my home as well. so religion is nothing but a washed up turd floating in the world its has helpped form and let decay and then finally slip away from its grip – the only reason why the heads of religion have been campaining, is they sense there own demise!

    so my view is simply this- belief can stay at home, in a shoe box filled with the toys and dreams of a child and left there to become dusty and forgotton like the myths of our ancesters.

    now as for this dude, let him die as a citizen of the country whose laws he willfully broke! later dude.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • gay republican

      Go to hell retard

      September 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • The Jimster

      it funny the way both theists and atheists bombard religious articles like honey...@Ken they're all fools man...[atheist speaking]...
      dogma nor reason/science gives anyone the right to insult each other...thats why we'll never coexists...hurts man.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      I think they would execute an ATHIEST as well. Simply because you are NOT a Muslim. Does that sound FAIR to you, Mr. Atheist?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  11. Ken

    Proof that Islam is not the peace and happiness religion it claims to be. There is no tolerance. There is no place in this world for any religion that does not tolerate non-belief as a principle. I don't care which religion be it, Christian, or Muslim, other other. Dogma has no place in the 21st century.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Ken

      to have no tolerance for others beliefs is retarded and any people as a group force beliefs is backwards and primitive and belongs in the stone age. So if that's how they want to be then let's bomb them back there.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • max

      and what makes you believe that Iran represents Islam?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. The Jimster

    @Facepalm28 to be honest...I feel you man...everyday I wake up and all I see is atheist vs theists...bombarding
    each other with insults...I too try to be the most moral person I can be...helping the poor and everyone else with
    each opportunity I get...I'm no believer. but I can sympathize with both sides...waking up without some G-d
    backing you up or seeing nothing in religion...It hurts man...painful

    September 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  13. ruben

    I can see Jesus' eyes in his....may God bless Pastor Nadarkhani

    September 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Blind christians united

      I see said the blind man to his deaf wife

      September 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but what you see as Jesus, I see as fetal alcohol syndrome.

      My guess is Dada is a whino, probably also explains his rebellion against authority.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Liqmaticus

      Amen. If I had to choose a bullet in my head or renouncing Christ I would take the bullet. Christ said if we are to follow Him we have to carry our own crosses. God bless this pastor and I hope and pray he is released, but if not he is doing exactly what Christ asked of His followers.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • William Demuth


      If you practice what you preach God bless.

      But if you use your God to harm others, we may be forced to permit you that choice.

      So be a good little sheep.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  14. Yakobi.

    I wonder how the muslim world would react if a predominantly Christian country was about to execute someone for refusing to denounce Islam.

    (That's rhetorical. I do know how they'd react–with violence against Christians, obviously.)

    September 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Packing Fudge

      Guantanamo ring a bell???

      September 29, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Krish

      Guantanamo police didn't exactly force anyone to convert. They let them pray freely.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Blind christians united

      Waterboarding is for playing poker, not to torture not to convince

      September 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • gay republican

      Jesus please help america and the evil hate mongering radical liberals on here who post such mean comments against christians, they are christians Terrorist, yes christians have a terrorist group trying to kill them and its their fellow americans THE liberal radical LEFT WING DEMOCRATS

      September 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Yakobi.

      Seriously "Packing Fudge"? You're comparing Iran's death sentence against someone whose only "crime" is refusing to denounce his faith to the non-uniformed terrorists we captured on the battlefields in Afghanistan? SERIOUSLY???

      September 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Many Muslim societies consider Evangelisim a VERY serious offense.

      Do NOT believe for a single second that "freedom of speech" is embraced the world over.

      People who provoke the government OFTEN meet bad ends, and the governments of almost half the worlds people percieve Evangelicals as insurrectionists.

      I STROGLY suggest if you go over "there" you leave Jesus "over here" until you get back, or you yourself might meet an untimely end.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Yakobi.

      William Demuth–some points you need clarification on:
      1. He's not being executed for PRACTICING Christianity, he's being executed for CONVERTING to Christianity from Islam. In the muslim countries stuck in the middle ages (which is pretty much all of them except Turkey), this is a no-no.
      2. You're flat out wrong when you claim "the governments of almost half the worlds people percieve Evangelicals as insurrectionists." Only a handful of governments would carry out a similar sentence on a person whose "crime" was converting from the state religion to another (they just all happen to be muslim governments).
      3. I wouldn't go "over there" until Iran joins the rest of the civilized world in the 21st Century.
      4. I wouldn't proselytize because I'm an atheist.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  15. Disgruntled Christian waiting to die

    In jesus name – amen

    September 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  16. mb2010a

    If you people really want to argue something...what about Simon. He preceded Jesus and professed everything Jesus supposedly taught...Jesus merely copied everything Simon said, without the hatred towards Rome. The bible even mentions Simon and says "Oh BTW, ignore Simon"...?

    September 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm |

    screw you people, all you haveperverted my fake teachings and now you whin when others do what you have done but just different standings! please... my judgement – let the earth burn in the fires of hell!

    September 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Gay Fudge Packer

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

    September 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  19. Ken

    I think Iran needs a nuclear winter time out.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • gay republican

      Pay attention black americans to what ur DEMS radical liberal white friends are saying about christians and PLEASE VOTE FOR HERMAN CAIN A GOOD MAN

      September 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • claybigsby

      great idea idiot...unless you want the world to have a "Nuclear Time Out" Retard

      September 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  20. GSA

    Convert or die, seems like a recurring theme with the big 3 religions. I guess you have to play the numbers game when the content of the religion is based on myths and lies.

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

      All religions are based on concepts that are near impossible to prove directly. SO for any state to have a convert or die mentality is immoral and wrong. SO IRAN is as BAD as Nazi Germany or any Other terrible nation state, so the world should take them out. Not to mention you cause a lot of folks to "Say they are converted to their way even though it's a lie" It's sad when we get punished for being true to ourselves.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • o.k.

      Pathetic–in the modern world, please provide one example of a Christian auhtority exacting a death sentence (or carrying out a murder, etc.) on anyone who did not accept Christ. Please don't refer to the crusades–that's a red herring–particularly since you defined the topic (i.e. "recurring"). Even if you dig up an example, it certainly would not be indicative of modern Christianity (i.e. your reference to a "theme"). Your ignorance (or is it simple hatred–and is that any different than Iran's hatred for this pastor) is overwhelming.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • William Demuth


      You have heard of the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the invasion of Iraq, haven't you?

      Not to mention the 8 million that died in Hitlers ovens?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @ o.k.

      I can see you're point and I agree to a certain extent, radicalized islam in the form of a theocracy is much more liable to kill an unbeliever than christianity. Then again I don't know of a country in the world that is a true christian theocracy (well unabshedly one anyway) so Christians are prohibited even in a country they are the major majority in, to exercise their religion to the fullest extent. The sad truth is, when it comes down to it, a theocracy of any type would allow the death of unbelievers no matter how noble you believe the christian religion to be.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • April

      Are you counting the number of people of faith who have been killed by atheists into your equation? Communist regimes have done their own "cleansing." It doesn't seem like it's exclusively the big 3. Maybe it is just that humanity likes to find reasons to kill each other-which only proves how fallen humanity is.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Please identify an instance where someone was killed in the name of atheism. Keep in mind communism and atheism are two very different things and although communism uses atheism as part of its ideaology, it does not mean that when one becomes an atheist they immediatly become a communist.

      Give a whirl, see where you end up.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Few "communist regimes' as you call then are athiests.

      They merely elevate Marx or Lenin to a comporable role as Christ.

      People who have been trained to worship people, be they ones who claim to be divine or merely the ones who are dictators, they carnage is the same.

      No man is a God. Not Jesus, Not Lenin, Not Allah nor Marx.

      It is actually embarrasing how so many of us are sheep.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • TGEEE

      Ignorance is the night of the mind – but a night without a moon or stars -

      September 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • o.k.


      We've debated before, so I'm a little shocked at your relatively ignorant response–you've posted much better arguments. In response... the inquisition and the the Salem witch trials–horrible to say the least. How many centuries ago was that? Again, I'm responding to the "recurring theme" argument made by GSA. I'll be more precise–give me an example that is indicative of all of Christianity (since all of Christianity is indicted by GSA)–since 1800. Your reference to Hitler is misplaced–he wasn't a Christian. Him him saying he was belies the truth–most accounts indicate he was a follower of Darwin (and his now laughable racist claims were used as part of his justification to kill Jes) and heavily into the occult. In any event, one person (no matter how horrible) can hardly be an example of the millions who follow Christ. (I would suggest to you that a better argument would have been to invoke the Pope's apparent shrug of the shoulders through all of this–let a Catholic defend that one though). Iraq–really? At what point did Bush say convert or die? If Iraq was truly a holy war (at least from our end) wouldn't be be killing all muslims? Wouldn't we be indiscriminate about it–not worrying about setting up a democracy. If Iraq were truly a holy war, why not bring it against American muslims? Just because this is arguably a Christian majority nation and Iraq is muslim dominated does not make this a holy war. (For the record–I'm not in lock step with GOP on this one–Iraq was an incredible blunder–but that doesn't make it holy war either.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41
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.