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. A. S. Mathew

    In QURAN, JESUS is mentioned more than 28 times, and HE is the only person with the Holy Spirit. If the Muslims will read
    Quran, more will be coming to know JESUS CHRIST. His virgin birth is clearly written, also it is stated that JESUS will establish HIS kingdom on earth. Muslims have freedom to build their places of worship in the U.S. and other western countries, but the double standard taken by some of the Muslim countries through persecuting the Chiristians is a total confusion.
    This is an age of internet and thousands of Muslims are coming to follow CHRIST everywhere in the world. Let the Muslim countries give freedom to their citiziens to make their own choice of religion. Religion is a personal matter, and it must be
    dealt with in that respect. The son of the Hamas leader is now a follower of Christ. One memember of the Kuwaiti royal family is a follower of CHRIST.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • End Religion

      on CNN, jesus is mentioned millions of times. This makes it more holy than the Quran. Please read all its stories and comments and follow them to the letter.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  3. LOST

    I AM PROUD OF HIM! The world needs more people just like this man to stand up against tyranny and religious mind-control. For the sake of justice and equality, his release from prison is a step in the right direction. All religions are being judged by God, including Islam...and what is revealed about the bad side of religious practice (especially concerning church and state and its abuses of the people which they serve). We are all called upon today to end hatred and divisions that lead to war, poverty, and discrimination. Stories such as the ones above are much appreciated because it shames the national politics of countries that use religion to dictate the actions and culture of its society.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  4. jholland27

    hickory dickory dock
    religion is a crock
    if you believe
    you are deceived
    hickory dickory dock

    September 9, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  5. Rick1948

    I'm glad he got released, but a Christian, living in Iran, complaining about the Quran just doesn't seem to be a great way to stay healthy. He might want to rethink his options.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:19 am |
  6. Bob

    Why is it that in Iran they do not tolerate the Christian religion, but over her in North America, we must tolerate the Muslim religion. Shouldn't we be putting Muslims on teil and arrest them as well, same like they do to us over there?

    September 9, 2012 at 6:11 am |
    • Ignorance101

      I guess you don't know what propoganda is. Iran has the best reputation out of many nations (like India etc) for it's treatment towards minority religions. They only outlaw converting and then actively recruiting to a different faith. It's quite possible this guy first converted to Christianity then started bashing Islam, which is religious intolerance.

      On top of this we already have many such attacks. Just recently 6 sikhs were killed, many sikhs get targeted for wearing Turbans and having beards. Muslims in NY get stabbed all the time. Do I really need to mention how Africans are treated by majority caucasian police? sure we don't exactly practice the same level of intolerance towards religion (a choice) but we definitely are far more racist towards skin color and race (not really a choice). If you want it so badly you can go ahead and have it; i'm sure then you will realize the only reason America is better than Iran is because of those values in the first place. The whole deal with Iran is war mongering at it's best though I mean there are thousands dying over religion in Africa everyday but no one cares.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:25 am |
    • LOST

      NO, THEN WE'D BE NO BETTER THAN THEM. Let them self destruct on their own. This man's ordeal and many others like it is slowly, but surely changing the hearts of the people in that nation. They will rebel. Besides, there are just as many cases of religious discrimination right here at home, but nobody deserves to die for their beliefs. It's high time they learn that Christianity is a good that must be accepted and studied. And this being said by someone like myself who has given up religion due to its misuse.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • GW

      Hopefully, our country is much better than Iran.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:50 am |
  7. doctore0

    Hopefully he will now get out of the prison that is religion

    September 9, 2012 at 6:11 am |
  8. Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

    Humans are the only animal that claims the existence of a "God" whilst behaving as if one doesn't exist.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  9. elitephpcoder

    You should be glad we the "smart, non-delusional" people tolerate religion at all. After all you are the one reading from a 2000 year old book, that has been mistranslated, manipulated and rewritten numerous times. A book that has good morals but 0 substance when it comes to evidence of it being nothing more than fiction. The people that live in reality see the good book for what it is, a ticket into the grand social club known as religion. A book that perpetuates brain-washing on children when they are at the age of learning to read. A book of fables, myths and symbolism. A book that can be interpreted a thousand ways with only a few different sentences as the context. Am I an atheist? No.. Im agnostic. I cannot prove a god exists but i can be damn sure the one that does exist, doesn't exist inside a book Man has written...

    September 9, 2012 at 5:52 am |
    • gdouglaso

      Gotta ask...why such high level of hate?

      September 9, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • Blake

      This "book" you refer to is the book you will be judged by. The Bible was written by man but inspired by God. There are many things which you have not seen yet believe exists and still you walk out everyday and see God's creations all around you and refuse to truly open your eyes.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:05 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      "Hate?" No, try "Righteous Anger".

      September 9, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  10. ScottK

    Giving all praise and honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the freeing of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani! To the ones on this forum that TRUST the Lord Jesus for the resurrection from the dead, peace to you! "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: "

    To those who mock and do not believe, repent and trust the Good News! God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus the Messiah to free you from the penalty of sin. We are born at war with God but He has sent Life in to this world that all men might be saved from the wrath that is to come. As the angels sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men"! He bids you come!

    “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

    Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:”

    You are being called out of darkness into his marvellous light that you might obtain mercy!

    September 9, 2012 at 5:33 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      John Birch couldn't have said it better.

      September 9, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • Doug

      Keep believing all that crap.. It will get you nowhere..

      September 9, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • Kourtney

      God is in control I prayed for this guy this makes my day the Lord takes care of His own...

      September 9, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      " the Lord takes care of His own..."


      September 9, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  11. Greenpoint

    All this proves is thar Republican bigots will accept a Mormon in the White House rather than a black.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:28 am |
  12. rezashaw5000

    Actually, the largest Christian church in the mid-east is located in....hold your breath! OK ready IRAN! Yes the same Iran that CNN loves to s#%t on, on a daily basis. There are also many many other Christian churches in Iran along with million of Christians and Aranian-Iranian christians living and practicing freely. I have been to Iran during Christmas time, and christmas stuff was every where and it said merry christmas (not happy holidays liked over here). They call santa claus "Papa Noel", and he is on almost every corner hustlin for tips.

    This guy attempted to "rock the boat" with his complaint and paid a price, even though it was unfair, unethical, and unjust price. He knew the conciquinces when he file his complaint. The moral of this story and many others like it is that religon and the state (including public education) should be always separated! In the U.S, E.U, and hopefully one day in theochrocies like Iran and Israel. No hope for countries like Pakistan ect. they are too far gone.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:16 am |
    • Kayo

      Religion is a joke. Thanks for the hatred. Idiots!

      September 9, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX


      You guys just can't be taken seriously.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • rezashaw5000

      TO: Quid Malmborg in Plano TX


      Well thank you Mr. Spelling Police! The content of my post was totally useless because i misspelled consequences at three in the morning. Dbag!

      September 9, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      rezashaw5000: Wrong. The content of your post was totally useless because you stooped to calling me a "Dbag." Try posting when you're sober. HTH

      September 9, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  13. Joew770

    There's no need to force kids as also to adults to believe in God in any particular religion or we are doing the contrary to the true principles, we, as human race, even don't follow the Ten Commandments let's admit it even if it is the shameful thing. Human be should discover God by himself/herself, after all, we have the free will to believe by ourselves and I don't see the need in try to force the mind of other people to be "equal", remember that each one of all is different and everyone has right to believe differently, it not only applies to extremist governments or groups but also to individuals and religious denominations. I am asking to myself. What's the point in having a religion and be part of a community where everybody "thinks" the same about God and in some cases can be extra-limited? I believe each individual can follow God without that dependency of a "church" so the spiritual life is more healthier.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  14. YEICA

    This is a miracle. GOD IS REAL and HE never fails. This is a powerful success for all Christian and may many come to know the TRUE AND ONLY GOD. FATHER GOD, SON JESUS AND HIS HOLY SPIRIT.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:06 am |
    • Mirosal

      and what of the 5+ billion on this planet who do NOT follow YOUR "god"? what will become of them? Tell us O professor of mythology.. oops I mean "speaker for god".

      September 9, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  15. Billy

    Is that a banana or a nose? Holy c r a p!

    September 9, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • Billy wife

      I like his nose

      September 9, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • Pork chops plz

      He is one brave soul.

      September 9, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  16. Bill

    Is that a banana or a nose? Holy c r a p!

    September 9, 2012 at 4:45 am |
  17. paulronco

    An inspiring ending that no doubt the Christian nutjobs will hold up as evidence of this man's divine protection while downplaying the more earthly participation of the Iranian government, but this persecution of religious minorities is technically no different from compelling our schoolchildren to acknowledge the existence of God. Ensuring freedom of religion is meaningless without also ensuring freedom from religion, especially in an age where religion is so shamelessly used to undermine our civil liberties and gain political power.And to think, all we do in this country is force our kids to acknowledge the existence of God.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • Damocles

      Good post.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Charmin'

      you had to call Christians "nutjobs"? why are you troubled?

      September 9, 2012 at 5:25 am |
  18. Abman


    Reading through the comments, it really seems that you are probabaly an athiest, will little tolerance for religion. In fact, you seem to hate relition. It is a good thing you live in a secular country that tolerats viewpoints like yours. In a country like Iran, you would certainly be subject to the death penalty for your viewpoints. Just saying.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:20 am |
    • Powerful girl

      Scottca is atheist because he did not know what he wants and confused

      September 9, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • Billy

      Like it matters.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:46 am |
    • rsully

      or he is atheist because he has a high IQ

      September 9, 2012 at 5:02 am |
    • elitephpcoder

      You should be glad we the "smart, non-delusional" people tolerate religion at all. After all you are the one reading from a 2000 year old book, that has been mistranslated, manipulated and rewritten numerous times. A book that has good morals but 0 substance when it comes to evidence of it being nothing more than fiction. The people that live in reality see the good book for what it is, a ticket into the grand social club known as religion. A book that perpetuates brain-washing on children when they are at the age of learning to read. A book of fables, myths and symbolism. A book that can be interpreted a thousand ways with only a few different sentences as the context. Am I an atheist? No.. Im agnostic. I cannot prove a god exists but i can be damn sure the one that does exist, doesn't exist inside a book Man has written.

      September 9, 2012 at 5:51 am |
  19. Imminent

    I would suggest the man leave Iran for good. Move some place where he can believe what he wants. In America, you can believe in science, religion, or nothing. It would be a leap for society if they can just believe what they want without someone ridiculing them, including anti-religious posts found here. You who berate others are no better than the Iranians. You aren't worthy to call yourselves decent human beings. Sorry, it's the truth until you change.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      Yet you feel like you can berate us. What kind of human being does that make YOU?

      September 9, 2012 at 4:24 am |
  20. Powerful girl

    Where is 3eye?

    September 9, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • Powerful girl

      99%. Of mirthful post is insult and moron

      September 9, 2012 at 4:08 am |
    • RegularDude, south bay, ca

      Why does Cee and Enn hate Christians?

      September 9, 2012 at 4:13 am |
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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.