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Christian pastor - once sentenced to death in Iran - is released, group says
September 8th, 2012
05:26 PM ET

Christian pastor - once sentenced to death in Iran - is released, group says

By Michael Martinez, CNN

(CNN) - A Christian pastor sentenced to death in Iran for apostasy was reunited with his family Saturday after a trial court acquitted him, said a nonprofit group monitoring the case.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, born to Muslim parents and a convert to Christianity by age 19, was released after being held in prison for almost three years under a death sentence, said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Setting aside the death sentence, a trial court convicted Nadarkhani of a lesser charge - evangelizing Muslims - and declared that his prison sentence had already been served, Barrans said.

His case drew international attention after his October 2009 arrest, and the 34-year-old pastor refused to recant his Christian beliefs.

Nadarkhani was greeted by his wife and two small sons upon his release, but it's unclear whether the pastor will continue preaching, said the center, a conservative organization founded by television evangelist Pat Robertson.

"His ability to preach in Iran, I don't know," Barrans told CNN. "But I think at this point, he's going to have to some time to assess the situation and all the emotions wrapped up in that before he makes any decision."

Persecution of religious minorities in the Muslim country remains a problem, Barrans said. Hundreds of Christians are arrested, detained for months and then released without formal charges "as an intimidation tactic," she said.

As an ordained minister, Nadarkhani led a network of house churches in Iran.

He was arrested in 2009 after he lodged a protest with local education officials after learning his child was being forced to read from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in school.

He was charged with apostasy and convicted in a provincial court - which sentenced him to death.

He appealed, and during a trial in a lower court, refused to recant his beliefs.

The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which said Nadarkhani's sentence could be overturned if he recanted. The pastor refused.

On Saturday, he was released by a trial court in the Gilan Province, Barrans said. The pastor had been held in Lakan prison in the same province, she said. Nadarkhani is from the province's city of Rasht.

Even though the constitution of Iran - a predominantly Shiite Muslim country - guarantees equality to members of religious minorities, that has not been the case in practice.

And while apostasy is not an offense codified in Iranian law, converts from Islam often face the death penalty, Amnesty International said.

Persecution has increased since Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009, with Baha'is, Christian converts and even Sunni Muslims bearing the brunt.

In April 2010, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported a rise in church raids and harassment of worshippers by Iranian authorities.

And Amnesty International, in a report released earlier this year, said "repeated calls by the Supreme Leader and other authorities to combat "false beliefs" - apparently an allusion to evangelical Christianity, Baha'ism and Sufism - appear to have led to an increase in religious persecution."

In February, the White House issued a pointed statement in the Nadarkhani case, strongly condemning the reports of an execution order.

"This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran's international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values," the statement said. "The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution - a fundamental and universal human right. "

From small churches to large organizations, Nadarkhani's case has galvanized American Christians.

The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that monitors and attempts to assist with persecuted and minority churches around the world, has closely followed Nadarkhani's case and other developments involving Christians in Iran.

But the issue has not been solely spearheaded by Christian groups; Muslim organizations have also been vocal about condemning Iran.

The American Center for Law and Justice - a group "specifically dedicated to the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God-given rights" - was asked by the pastor's lawyers last year to help publicize Nadarkhani's case, according to Jodran Sekulow, executive director of the group.

The ACLJ organized a Twitter campaign called "Tweet for Youcef."

The group says the campaign has been reaching more than 2.5 million Twitter accounts in 234 countries and territories around the globe each day.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a 417-1 vote a resolution condemning Iran for imprisoning Nadarkhani, while calling for his immediate release.

In a letter posted May 30 on Voice of the Martyrs website, Nadarkhani seemed a bit taken aback by all the attention his case was garnering and by those using it for political purposes.

"I want to appreciate all those (who) are trying to reach this goal," he said. "At the end I hope my freedom will be prepared as soon as possible ..."

CNN's Dan Merica and Ed Payne contributed to this report.

 

- shirleyhenrycnn

Filed under: Christianity • Iran

soundoff (791 Responses)
  1. Praise Him

    Praise the Lord for saving this poor man. In this evil world, God must work miracles. Praise Him.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      If we don't praise Him the rocks will cry out!
      Hallelujah!
      Our God is an awesome God, He hears the cries of His people!
      I believe that we need to pray fro the persecuted Church now more then ever. Satan is roaring because he knows his time is short, and he's got "work to do". But God has work for His people to do! And if we're not out there in the battlefield, we'll fight with our prayers!
      May the Name of Jesus be glorified through this precious brother's testimony!

      September 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  2. Hour of Power

    I try not to think about things that I do not think about.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  3. Can being alive kill you?

    He really should live in there because without the full thing it will be difficult.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  4. therealpeace2all

    Reblogged this on peace2alldotme.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  5. Miracle

    Thank you God.
    What an awesome testimony this is to all the 7 year olds that were tirelessly praying for the pastor to be released.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  6. Andranik

    Go to Armenia and preach there Sir. They will try to get you again if you stay in Iran.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Marty

      The liberal left extremists won't kill him, but they will call him nasty names on the internet.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Andranik

      You are right, they hate us but they hate converts 100 times more, he is in danger there.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  7. The Central Scrutinizer

    @Atheists

    To think that you are accomplishing anything here is either a lie or just foolishness. You all just like hearing yourself talk. That's it. You are not persuading any Christians or anyone else.

    I am an atheist, but the battle for America will not be won beating up Christians on this blog. That is akin to bullying retarded people. And if we are morally sound, we know better.

    Progress will be made by taking the high ground.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Athy

      You're probably right. But it's loads of fun. And, who knows, some cross clutcher may see the light. Or at least get him to think a little.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Good!

      Wow, finally, an atheists that makes sense.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Atheists have no choice but to beat up on Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (well, maybe not so much Buddhism since most don't believe in a god anyway), Judaism (well, maybe not as much since "Jewish" can kind of be considered a race, sort of), Sikhism (well, maybe not them so much since their race was, according to legend, designed to fight militant Muslims), Zoroastrianism (well, maybe not so much them since they don't really exist in significant numbers anymore), agnosticism (yeah – the fence sitters deserve a ribbing), and any other god-based "ism"s purely as self-defense.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  8. becool

    Every day proves to us that Islam is a bloody and violent religion never accepts the other! It;s the nature of its founder. But instead of complaining of Islam we must do something to save the world from it. Can we?

    September 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  9. Mohammad

    Muslim children in variuos locations within the Muslim world who go to Christian schools read the bible in the morning and they don't lodge protests like this paster did in Iran. Maybe they are more confident in their faith. If this pastor didn't want his children to read the Quran he should have sent his children to a Christian school insrtead. I was sympethasing with this pastor up until I knew about this.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      uh huh, and you can cite sources of muslim children going to christian schools right?

      September 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Robear in Ojai

      There are NO Christian schools in Iran.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      I grew up in Iran. We read all religious books at school. I sat with kids who practiced Judism and Christianity. They left thialogy classes to attend Jewish or Christian schools and would come back to regular classes. Noone objected. Islam accepts Christianity and Judism. This guy decided to convert and protest. He doesn't get my sympathy.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Mohammad

      Go there and see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears! Ask for a Chrisitan school in your next visit to the Middle East preferably one that is distinguished and watch. It's facinating to watch girls with hijab listening to bible readings on school speakers.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Andranik

      There are some Armenian schools in Iran, Armenians are Christians.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @NeutralMind

      " Islam accepts Christianity and Judism. This guy decided to convert and protest. He doesn't get my sympathy. "

      A ssuming you're not 'trolling'... So, your thinking is Islam accepts Christianity, etc... *as long as* someone doesn't *convert* to Christianity nor *protest* for whatever reason ? 😯

      Well, -NeutralMind, I can surely understand why..."He doesn't get your sympathy."

      Wow !!!!!!!!

      Peace...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Minoa

      You "grew up in Iran"? Does it not occur to you that things are different there now? Unlike you, his child was forced to sit in Islamic theology lessons. These days they are obviously not letting non-Muslims leave for lessons of their own choosing. More to the point, you have no sympathy for the fact that this father was held almost 3 years under a DEATH sentence?! Simply because he complained about the treatment of his child in school? That is unreasonable.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  10. us_1776

    Religion has been the source of more human suffering and death than any other cause.

    .

    September 8, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      divorce is a close second...

      September 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Minoa

      The problem is not religion, but form of government. Guess I'll make a fresh post to explain further.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  11. Gopherit

    The release of Pastor Nadarkhani is very good news. His willingness to stand up for his beliefs, even to the point of being martyred, should be a lesson for Western Christians who often take their faith and their in-general right to practice it for granted.

    Hopefully U.S. politicians will not attempt to take credit for him being freed. With the U.S. and its allies applying the pressure of sanctions to and ongoing threats against Iran it is unlikely that anything any Western politicans have said would have had any influence upon the court in Iran.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • End Religion

      one more child predator is allowed to roam the streets.... so sad.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  12. therealpeace2all

    @A Frayed Knot

    Yes... I agree. Intolerably slow process.

    @DickPerry

    If you re-read my post, I said: " And... I am aware that Christians, ***at least in the U.S.*** aren't out killing people because of non-belief or changing your belief. "

    Yes, I'm quite aware of places, such as the Congo where you can be killed just for being gay, etc...

    Ultimately, as I stated... I don't like *either one*... Muslim extremists... nor Christian extremists.

    Peace...

    September 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      *apologies* ... see thread below.

      Peace...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  13. BigdaddyUSA

    Why is Iran even a member of the UN? They sentence Christians to death, call for the destruction of Israel and are the largest sponser of terrorism in the world! Helllooooooo.........

    September 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • John Galt Ramirez

      Most of the UN is anti-American, anti-civil-rights and pro dictatorship. The UN is a joke and just a way to give voices to people who hate the West EXCEPT for our money.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      Because Iran is one of the oldest countries to ever exist?! Because it is not as bad as they want you to believe!
      I grew up in Iran. We read all religious books at school. I sat with kids who practiced Judism and Christianity. They left thialogy classes to attend Jewish or Christian schools and would come back to regular classes. Noone objected. Islam accepts Christianity and Judism. I don't practice any religion. I don't consider myself a muslim as I do not practice. My family don't even believe in god. Yet, we never had any problems living in Iran.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @NeutralMind

      Yeah... apparently you didn't *convert* to Christianity nor *protest* LOL 😀

      Peace...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  14. Aunt Esther

    Christians being persecuted? But my race/class/gender professor told me that Christians can only persecute, not be persecuted! Oh, I'm so confused with my leftist ideology...

    September 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Are Christians persecuted in other countries ? Undoubtedly. Are they persecuted in America ? Absolutely not.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  15. AvdBerg

    Are those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24: 2 Cor. 11:13-15: Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of religion and Christianity and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’ and ‘The Mystery Babylon’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as
    confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • midwest rail

      If your website was all that great, you wouldn't be stealing free advertising, a decidedly unChristian thing to do.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • alexander

      BOOLSHIDT

      September 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • End Religion

      @ midwest: odd, i find his theft perfectly christian. Religion is nearly defined as hypocrisy. do as i preach, not as i do.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • TROLL ALERT

      This poster is a TROLL on this site and is only posting to sell their book and website which is a cult. They are a known liar on this site. Report them to their web hosting site since spamming is against the rules! Click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL!

      September 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  16. citizen bob

    I am very happy this poor man is free. I'm sure his three year sentence was awful.
    What a barbarous law they have in Iran.

    September 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • DickPerry

      Yes. Its barbaric with death penalty. Hopefully the nations that use it might one day join the rest of the civilized world without death penalty punishment.

      September 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • End Religion

      yes, barbarous to live under religious law. Very backward.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  17. rick

    only 3 years in prison for his religious beliefs. what an advanced and tolerant culture!

    September 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • DickPerry

      Some nations drone kills clerics that preach things they don't like.

      September 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • John Galt Ramirez

      Thats their only way to stop dissent.. kill it. As for Mr Perry... what do you suggest when you have an enemy that funds terror across the world? Throw lollipops at them?

      September 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  18. Rebel4Christ

    Praise God

    September 8, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • citizen bob

      yup

      September 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • alexander

      And who might THAT be??

      September 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      Yes, praise Loki and his tricky ways.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Praise God."? For what, exactly?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  19. Billy

    Islam – a piece of crap religion. Iran – a pice of crap country. Iran is not even ready to join the 17th century let alone
    the 21st.

    September 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • DickPerry

      Yes. How can they be so barbaric that they still have a death penalty?? What barbarians.. LOL...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      Really Billy? Human rights came from Iran. Go read some history books before you judge a whole nation by a government which its own people do not accept. Iran is one of the oldest countries to ever exist.
      I grew up in Iran. We read all religious books at school. I sat with kids who practiced Judism and Christianity. They left thialogy classes to attend Jewish or Christian schools and would come back to regular classes. Noone objected. Islam accepts Christianity and Judism. I don't practice any religion. I don't consider myself a muslim as I do not practice. My family don't even believe in god. Yet, we never had any problems living in Iran.
      Stop watching too much American news. Travel and read some books instead. You might learn a little.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  20. therealpeace2all

    First, let me say that I am extremely delighted and glad he was given his freedom. However, I don't know that this will change how the Muslim's handle 'apostasy.'

    With the Muslim extremists its... 'believe in Islam, or be be-headed, if you don't or want to change.'

    With the Christians its... 'believe in Jesus as your savior, etc... and if you don't, you will 'burn for... eternity.'

    The extremist Muslim philosophies and practices are obviously beyond crazy. And... I am aware that Christians, at least in the U.S. aren't out killing people because of non-belief or changing your belief, but I sure don't like either one of these belief systems.

    One will kill you now and your burn forever... and one leaves you alone now, basically, and then you burn forever.

    I just don't get it.

    Peace...

    September 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Islam is about where Christianity was when it was 1400 years old - and was still converting by the sword and killing heretics. The only reason that they stopped was because of secular law. I'm not sure about the details of how this was accomplished, but it needs doing again, and soon.

      They can cast all the imaginary bad juju that they want on non-believers. It's gonna be slow, but they will run out of credibility one of these days.

      September 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • DickPerry

      Really? So the country of Christianity isn't killing heretics all over the world? I do remember G.W Bush stating its time for a holy war.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @A Frayed Knot

      Yes... I agree. Intolerably slow process.

      @DickPerry

      If you re-read my post, I said: " And... I am aware that Christians, ***at least in the U.S.*** aren't out killing people because of non-belief or changing your belief. "

      Yes, I'm quite aware of places, such as the Congo where you can be killed just for being gay, etc...

      Ultimately, as I stated... I don't like *either one*... Muslim extremists... nor Christian extremists. They both can take a hike.

      Peace...

      September 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      @knot: unfortunately we do not have the time to wait. When the most damage a "theology gone wild" could do was hack and slash a few hundred thousand, or maybe a couple million, we could hold out until the storm passed. Now very few religious crazies, maybe even just one, can literally end human continuance on the planet, period. We don't have time to wait for Islam to grow up... heck, even Christianity isn't grown up yet. If we gave up on secular law and let religion run amuck again, this country would be a total End Times madhouse in no time flat. End religion now.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:14 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.