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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. albie

    all religion is evil – how many people been killed because of Christianity and Islam ... how many resources does religion waste. It is brain washing and needs to be eradicated.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  2. Bill

    What a schnozzle on that guy!

    September 9, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  3. Sam Tam

    This man needs a nose job, he has a severe case of the deviated septum. Having said that, it's really sad that this priest had to endure so much pain for his Christianity faith.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  4. IronRider

    Iran has a full military and naval fleet knocking on their front door this very hour. You think they are trying to save face? Heh. I'd be a little worried, just a little.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:35 am |
  5. talnz

    kaplah youcef

    September 9, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  6. CA

    Muslims goal is spreading their violence and hatred towards non-Muslims in the West. We need to STOP them before destrpying our societies. No, there are no 'Good' Muslims – they are all evil and support radical Muslims and the Koran is nothing but trash of violence, hatred towards non-Muslims, supporting terrorism and bashing women.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:23 am |
  7. 1amazed2u

    Have faith. You can't see it and you can't buy it. Have Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Bless Youcef and his family. God bless you Youcef.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Bmal

      You forgot the other four: you can’t touch it, smell it, hear it, or taste it either.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • albie

      people like you scare me

      September 9, 2012 at 2:45 am |
  8. Jewish girl

    Muslims in 21st century are worse than 7th century..... Too bad secular Muslims support radical Islamists.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  9. h

    your being brainwashed into believing that IRAN AND IRAQ are bad this is the oldest trick in the book we are taught ot hate these countries so we can keep invading them visit wikileaks and see the true enemy is our own government.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Bmal

      Did you read what you wrote? Talking about calling the kettle black.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Alicia

      Can you say.... Bilderberg?.... OK, enough said.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  10. !

    Iran is a f=ucking retarded country that should be bombed, including all countries using Sharia Law.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • CHILDS GAME

      No bombing anyone. Just respect other people's beliefs. He shouldn't have his son in an Islamic school to begin with. If my son is in a catholic school I am pretty sure they would make him read the bible. Its called being smart. This guy was trying to pick a fight – ie he is pasteur. What the heck is he doing in Iran???

      September 9, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • Jewish girl

      Iran is an Islamic country and non-Muslims are FORCED to go to Muslim schools and they teach and force students to read the Quran even in public schools. Iran has Sharia Law.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Matt

      Reading the Quran is mandatory for all students in Iran. Iran is 100% Islamic state.
      Iran and Saudi Arabia are the worst countries for non-Muslims.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  11. CHILDS GAME

    All the anti Islam rhetoric is getting old. Thats how the Nazis started against the Jews. You guys really generalize a lot. Stop the hate. There is quarter billion Muslims and the second largest religion in the world. So few nut cases don't generalize to everyone. Otherwise the inquistion, crusades, Srebenica, the genocide of native american, Hindu BJP'iers, Russia-stallion grad, Nazis, doesn't bode well in history. There is enough blood to go around. Remember Muslim Spain and Ottomans as better ex.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • !

      F*U*C*K Muhammed & Islam

      Don't you get it?

      September 9, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • government cheese

      Nazis are socialists.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • OMG

      Few 100% true Reasons why Islam is a terrible and evil religion to stay far away from...

      1. "Prophet" Muhammed was an evil pédophilé who was an intolerant murder, destroyer and had many wives, incl. 9 year old!
      2. Islam = submission. Allah tells Muslim to submit to his will; otherwise he will torture and torment you in life for eternity.
      3. Islam treats non-adherents worse than animals. If they are people of the books (Christians or Jewish), classify them as "dhimmis" and make them pay a special tax (Jizya) to the Islamic government, or they should be enslave, rob, rápe, and lynch them as you please unless they convert to Islam.
      4. Islam kills those who leave Islam and/or convert to another religion.It also says to kill gays, atheists and those who insult Islam.
      5. Islam says "Men are better than women", "Men could have many wives", "Women are worth half a man", "Selling a wife is perfectly ok".
      6. Unlike Christians – Muslims pray and serve Allah, rather than praying for themselves or someone else.
      7. Islam is the most violent Religion by far –>> http://www.thereligionofpeace.com <<–
      8. Muslims frequently persecute and kill Christians unless they convert to their cult. Churches have either been converting into Mosque. (Hagia Sophia an example) or being burned down in Islamic countries.
      9. Non-Muslims are forbidden visiting Mecca, and no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia (No churches, No non-Islamic stuff, etc.).
      10. Islam is spreading like rats in western countries (Europe & North America), and seek to spread their "Sharia Laws", as well as trying to convert as many people to their "peaceful" religion and ev. Taking over the nation.
      11. It is the DUTY of every Muslim to expand Islam and strive for world domination.
      12. Quran is nothing but hate and violence. Muslim children are brainwashed and brought up with violence and hatred towards non-Muslims.
      13. Islam says they believe in Jesus (Isa), yet they deny his words and the Bible.
      14. Many Muslims in western nations tries to act "nice" and "tolerant" like normal humans so people think that their religion is "peaceful" and ev. people falling into converting to Islam and accepting them.

      May our Lord save us from Islam and its disgusting people!

      Muslims could openly practice their religion freely in western (Christian) nations, but Christians or Non-Muslims would risk getting their head cut of doing in in any Islamic nation, both secular and extremist...

      ****PLEACE WATCH THE VIDEO CLIP TO SEE AN EXAMPLE OF A TYPICAL MUSLIM THOUGHTS (In English)****

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8b3vhTO248&f

      September 9, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  12. Jenn

    CNN please stop making Americans think that Islam is peaceful just because they let one Christian person free from death sentence. What about other hundreds of thousands of Christians who have had their head cut off and churches being bombed?

    September 9, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • CHILDS GAME

      Stop making everyone think Islam is hateful. I am a Muslim. I am a doctor. I take care of patients every day. When you say stuff against Islam it hurts me and ashamed of being an american. I was born here. My kids were born here. And when jerks on this website say anti islamic things I fear for my kids safety. You all have to stop. One day lunatics like on this board may go and try to hurt people like in Norway. JUST STOP. ENOUGH. Think. Act like people with iq's and be educated.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • Matt

      If your Muslim community stop spreading Sharia Law into the west/Christian countries, STOP torturing/killing/murdering Christians, STOP bombing churches, STOP preaching Islam on streets, STOP wearing Burqa and START acting like tolerant normal human then come back.

      Muslims = ANIMALS. Muhammed was a murder and pe.dophile. Did you read your Quran?

      September 9, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Alicia

      Jenn = airhead, AYSO mom, more than likely.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Fractured Fairy Tale

      Matt

      If your Muslim community stop spreading Sharia Law into the west/Christian countries

      You just made the same mistake that Jenn did.
      Are there crazy fundamentalist in Islam ?
      Yes.
      But you just lumped together every single one of them,
      and that is just plain stupid.

      You cannot lump everybody in the world into two groups.
      Us and them.

      You lose, we all lose.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Don't be brainwashed by moderate Muslims

    ISLAM = CANCER OF SOCIETY

    Read the Quran & Look at Sharia Law.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • AlienShark

      are you capable of a debate, or are you just regurgitating on your keyboard?

      September 9, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Fractured Fairy Tale

      regurgitating.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  14. Saliba Imam

    Insallah one day Islam will take over America like we've done in many European countries. Muhammed (PBUH) wants everyone to seek the truth and follow Allah (One and true God and Islam).

    September 9, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Bmal

      I'm all for that. However, I wish you could take control of your own country first.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  15. :)

    F*U*C*K Muhammed and F*U*C*K Islam

    September 9, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  16. Bmal

    In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a 417-1. Who was the 1 and why not 418-0?

    September 9, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • realmike

      Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) was the only representative to vote against the resolution, although she later confirmed that she had accidentally voted "no."
      Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/house-of-representatives-approves-youcef-nadarkhani-resolution-70654/#GHdyWkXgDoECTr0d.99

      September 9, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • True

      Muslim was against it....

      September 9, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @True

      Hardly... She is a pretty hard core fundie (Lutheran).

      Peace...

      September 9, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Bmal

      Thanks. An accident? Don't let her near the nuke button. Unbelievable. Can you imagine if we had 417 accidents.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  17. Hindu girl

    This sometimes makes me wish that Christians in the west were as intolerant and radicals as the Muslims in the Middle East.

    Islam should be BANNED in Europe and North America unless they let Christians live in freedom.

    September 9, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • CHILDS GAME

      Hindu you shouldn't be talking with your BJP extremists and countless muslim murders in Kashmir, Gujrat. Sometimes you should look in the mirror it might reveal something. Muslims believe their religion is right just like everyone else does. Why would they want stone worshipers setting up temples?

      September 9, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • realmike

      Because one sect behaves badly we should condemn all? Your intolerant nature is one of the reasons I am still glad I live in the land of the free.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  18. Arash Parsi

    Good news for Pastor Naderkhani's family. Many Baha'is are in jail in Iran because they don't recant their beliefs. Members of the Iranian Baha’i community’s former leadership group start their fifth year in prison today as persecution of the religious minority has intensified. The five men and two women formed a national-level ad hoc group that helped attend to the needs of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i community. They were sentenced in August 2010 to 20 years in prison. The world should tell Iranian regime this behavior is not acceptable.

    September 9, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • CHILDS GAME

      Is Bahai like a made up faith? ARe they fire worshipers? Never heard of them.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Arash Parsi

      Child Game: As far I know they are not fire worshippers. Even if they were is none of business of the government of Iran to persecute them. How can you judge them as a made up religion if you never heard of them? Can you prove Islam is not a made up religion?

      September 9, 2012 at 3:21 am |
  19. WARNING

    Few 100% true Reasons why Islam is a terrible and evil religion to stay far away from...

    1. "Prophet" Muhammed was an evil pédophilé who was an intolerant murder, destroyer and had many wives, incl. 9 year old!
    2. Islam = submission. Allah tells Muslim to submit to his will; otherwise he will torture and torment you in life for eternity.
    3. Islam treats non-adherents worse than animals. If they are people of the books (Christians or Jewish), classify them as "dhimmis" and make them pay a special tax (Jizya) to the Islamic government, or they should be enslave, rob, rápe, and lynch them as you please unless they convert to Islam.
    4. Islam kills those who leave Islam and/or convert to another religion.It also says to kill gays, atheists and those who insult Islam.
    5. Islam says "Men are better than women", "Men could have many wives", "Women are worth half a man", "Selling a wife is perfectly ok".
    6. Unlike Christians – Muslims pray and serve Allah, rather than praying for themselves or someone else.
    7. Islam is the most violent Religion by far –>> http://www.thereligionofpeace.com <<–
    8. Muslims frequently persecute and kill Christians unless they convert to their cult. Churches have either been converting into Mosque. (Hagia Sophia an example) or being burned down in Islamic countries.
    9. Non-Muslims are forbidden visiting Mecca, and no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia (No churches, No non-Islamic stuff, etc.).
    10. Islam is spreading like rats in western countries (Europe & North America), and seek to spread their "Sharia Laws", as well as trying to convert as many people to their "peaceful" religion and ev. Taking over the nation.
    11. It is the DUTY of every Muslim to expand Islam and strive for world domination.
    12. Quran is nothing but hate and violence. Muslim children are brainwashed and brought up with violence and hatred towards non-Muslims.
    13. Islam says they believe in Jesus (Isa), yet they deny his words and the Bible.
    14. Many Muslims in western nations tries to act "nice" and "tolerant" like normal humans so people think that their religion is "peaceful" and ev. people falling into converting to Islam and accepting them.

    May our Lord save us from Islam and its disgusting people!

    Muslims could openly practice their religion freely in western (Christian) nations, but Christians or Non-Muslims would risk getting their head cut of doing in in any Islamic nation, both secular and extremist.
    .
    ****PLEACE WATCH THE VIDEO CLIP TO SEE AN EXAMPLE OF A TYPICAL MUSLIM THOUGHTS (In English)****

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8b3vhTO248&f

    September 9, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • brian

      West is asleep while Islam is taking over.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • End Religion

      Know that you are as crazy as the Muslim in the video. End all religions now.

      September 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  20. Chris

    Now this pastor needs to protest how the jail guards beat his nose out of shape. Wow, what a schoze!

    September 9, 2012 at 1:51 am |
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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.