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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. David, Tampa

    I get a kick out of agnostics They remind me of the scene in Star-Wars with Yoda and Luke, when Luke is in training and about to confront himself. Luke says "I am not afraid". Yoda says "YOU WILL BE...YOU W I L L BE" I would love to be alive when the Archangel Micheal stops by the "one Nation Under God" and demands to know who is starting all the wars. Oh Boy!!!! You Will Be!

    September 9, 2012 at 3:50 am |
  2. schema

    Who cast the one negative vote? And the justification.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  3. Oswald

    Mathew 5:10 'blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'
    Mathew 5:11-12 'blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you'

    September 9, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Read the Whole Bible

      Ezekiel 23:20
      20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses

      September 9, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  4. William Robison

    I have nothing, more then admire and the up most respect for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, And others before him, such as the last french crusader Jacques Demolay, for keeping their christian faith, no matter what cost it was to their mortal flesh. And knowing ideep down in their hearts that Jesus is Christ, our father, our Lord, our God, our Savoir . Amen.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • jimmymax

      I don't understand the "Supreme Leader". ALL your beliefs are false.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:46 am |
    • David, Tampa

      God is the Father, and the Creator. Jesus is the only born of man, Son of God. The old word is begotten. God has lots of Sons. (Genesis 6 1-4)

      September 9, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • End Religion

      God has lots of sons? Oh my... You do understand he impregnated a child for the first one? Mary was 12. And now he admits he slept with lots of children, or was it instead that he repeatedly abused just Mary? I think I see how the model for the Catholic Church was established.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  5. David, Tampa

    Well now....... it seems that the Muslims truly do believe in martyrdom.

    I certainly do. I believe that if I am killed because I will not recant my belief in the Lord God and His Son Jesus Christ, that I will get an immediate free pass. So if you are threatening me over my belief, good luck with that.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  6. Sanguine

    Dude needs a nose job.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • David, Tampa

      I am certain that they beat his face to cause his broken nose. Consider that.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • jimmymax

      I'm pretty sure he already got one. In prison.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  7. ScottCA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbOUBUVLvKw&feature=relmfu

    September 9, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Imminent

      Can't you just not believe quietly on your own without trying to convince others that you are right? Are you so insecure that you can't make a decision without trying to make others as miserable as you?

      September 9, 2012 at 4:05 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      @Imminent:
      Can't you just believe quietly on your own without trying to convince others that you are right? Are you so insecure that you can't make a decision without trying to make others as miserable as you?

      September 9, 2012 at 4:31 am |
    • Fractured Fairy Tale

      Imminent

      Can't you just not believe quietly on your own without trying to convince others that you are right? Are you so insecure that you can't make a decision without trying to make others as miserable as you?

      Are you so insecure that you cant learn from the video ?
      Scott is not miserable, he is just sharing something.
      Your response says that Scott has touched a nerve.
      Good for Scott.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Sdgman

    Yet it is OK in this country for Christians to discriminate against others based on their religion.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:32 am |
  9. trollol

    Religious groups form, religious groups clash, and people usually die. This may not have turned out with a person dead but to even consider putting him to death? The damage has already been done.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Damocles

      @Imminent

      I do not fight against the belief because that is trying to tell people what to think and I will not do that. I can fight against what is done in the name of that belief because that is when it effects me.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  10. ScottCA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3YgQfR3sEM&feature=related

    September 9, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • Imminent

      Feeling guilty? Looking for more public excuses for lacking in decency? You fighting against what you think is fiction proves you believe it to be real, otherwise you wouldn't waste your time. Try and think about it.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • Damocles

      Blah, posted in the wrong spot.

      @Imminent

      I do not fight against the belief because that is trying to tell people what to think and I will not do that. I can fight against what is done in the name of that belief because that is when it effects me.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:16 am |
  11. lastofall

    What comes to mind is (Acts 12:5) .."prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him".

    September 9, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • ScottCA

      Quoting a book about a god for which their is no evidence is as meaningless as quoting a book about monster in our closets, for as their is no evidence for the monster in my closet, so is it that there is no evidence of god existing either.

      The null hypothesis is that there is no god. Since there is no evidence to support the existence of god, the null hypothesis holds as the logical position. To depart from this position without evidence is to delve into fantasy and insanity.

      Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence of its existence, so is it insanity to believe in god without evidence.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:24 am |
  12. ScottCA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1lTR8V90qU

    September 9, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  13. ScottCA

    Iran please keep him there we have too many insane religious twits over here already. In fact please come and take some more, they are better suited to a backward country like yours, believing in gods that they have no evidence for existing.

    The null hypothesis is that there is no god. Since there is no evidence to support the existence of god, the null hypothesis holds as the logical position. To depart from this position without evidence is to delve into fantasy and insanity.

    Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence of its existence, so is it insanity to believe in god without evidence.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • Roberta Sorensen

      Scott: Even though I agree that there is no evidence that God exists, it doesn't help our argument to make comments like this. Sending people to Iran because they believe in God. Please. This county is based on tolerance...that means even you. If someone wants to believe there is a m an up in the sky, fine. You don 't have to believe it. Let it alone and do a bit of growing up.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • ScottCA

      I did not say that we should send anyone to Iran. I simply said that we would be better off if the Iranians did kidnap them all and took them away.. I stand by the statement.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • Imminent

      So you do believe in Christianity! I knew it! If you didn't, you wouldn't spend so much effort trying to ridicule it. Most of the intelligent people in America think all anti-religious zealots like yourself should be included with the extreme religious zealots. Since we're being fair, let us know when you leave for Iran. Thanks for trying.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  14. scamtannehill

    Imagine that a country that doesn't want your religion. Now that wouldn't happen in America or would it. What came first religion or war ?

    September 9, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  15. Chris33

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion fies you into buildings.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:07 am |
    • ScottCA

      Very well said

      September 9, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • Imminent

      Science has sacrificed countless lives in the pursuit of exploration. It's just as dirty as religion. People can pretend it's not that way but we all know it's delusional.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  16. worldcares

    Before I finished reading the article, I thought, "A true martyr."

    September 9, 2012 at 2:53 am |
  17. someone

    It has nothing to do with islam, It is the western policies that is outraging the Middle easterns. THINK about it.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • lovemygirl

      Their policies of killing everyone that doesn't believe like them is the problem. Blaming it on the West is stupid.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • Wes

      What policies would those be? Please elaborate. Would it be policies regarding protecting basic human rights, even from oppressive governments? Maybe the policy of sending funds to poor countries to help feed their people? Which policies, I'm not sure.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • ScottCA

      It is just religious ignorance left unchecked all religion is a parasite infesting humanity. We all would be better off without it.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhq-yO1KN8&feature=related

      September 9, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  18. Tr1Xen

    "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."

    It's a pretty backward country which will sentence you to death prior to trial. I think Tehran would make a lovely parking lot.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • stltact

      Because of the rhetorical political posturing of an oppressive theocratic revolutionary government, that revolted due the extreme reaction of a western inserted monarchy (the last Shah Pahlavi) you want to murder 40 million pseudo hostage, secular, Persian people? Talk about absurd statement, if you were in a third-world country you sir would without a doubt, be a terrorist. You just happen to be born and raised in a first-rate country and instead are just a moron.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  19. EnskildUnskuld

    Veiled and bearded people cannot be trusted anymore. It is sad that it has come this far, but it is their own fault. Not that they care, they love the fear they see in others on the street. Public transport will never be what it was. Multiculturalism was a dream: this utopian idea ignores the essential fact that life is all about interest, power and territory. There is nothing romantically exotic about the mix of clan thinking and a religious book that incites to kill people who look, think and act differently. And in the end it is biology, the mother of all forces: Whose DNA will win?

    September 9, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Jessica

      Concerning particular style of dress: Mary was veiled and Jesus wore a beard... or did you forget that. I'm sure you find they were very threatening to you also??? Did you ever stop to think why people dressed that way in the first place? People believe we evolved from apes... running around naked and ignorant... then along came the age of enlightenment and we were dignified and wore clothing.... i suppose you want to regress back to the ice age and wear a loin cloth... lol

      September 9, 2012 at 3:05 am |
    • Lapidus

      @Jessica – He didn't say he loved christians, did he.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  20. lovemygirl

    Candygram for the Mullahs.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:46 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.