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. Altee11

    This case shows what Iran's leader's export around the world. An intolerant brand of rule that crushes people's rights to practice their religion, that aims to destroy all other belief systems.
    Iran's leaders justify it by invoking another religion as justification, and people around the world will actually try to help these leaders achieve their goals overseas. It must be defended against.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  2. Reality

    One more time for our sisters and brothers of Islam,


    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi--–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    (Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..)

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Reality


      Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

      "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family) (As do Ryan and Biden)

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      Some added references to "tink-erbells".


      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      For added information see the review at:


      September 9, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Unreality

      All religion owes all to Allah, all praise be unto him, by whose will his Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, brought the double penetration dildo into the world.

      September 9, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Unreality

      Mormons have received the double penetration dildo. That is why they travel in pairs.

      September 9, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  3. msadr

    I would really love to know how an Iranian trial court was convinced to release this man. Political pressure? Money? Phenomenal apologetics? God on their conscience? There's an important story in there somewhere behind the headlines. I hope we hear it someday.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Tammee

      I heard that political pressure from Brazil had something to do with it. But, you're right, that's important to know because they are many other cases like this in Iran that don't end up as good news.

      September 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Jeff

      It could just be they made their point, which is to terrorize anyone who might preach Christianity in Iran.

      September 9, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  4. truth1111

    I laugh how people are "commending" the sick regime in Iran for letting this man go free. The question should be, why was he jailed in the first place???!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • catherinezickgraf

      He was jailed because he broke the law.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • CatSh

      Apostasy isn't against Iranian law.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  5. snowdogg

    I'm thinking he and his family should leave Iran, if possible.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  6. KEVIN

    Smart move by Iran, but they should abolish this law and anything close to this law. Otherwise they will completely isolate themselves from the rest of the world

    September 9, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Mosihasteen

      You think they aren't isolated already? God bless this man and may his mission be protected in that hateful part of the world. May he continue to convert those to the peace and love of Christ.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Mosihasteen

      You think they aren't isolated already? God bless him and may his mission be protected in that hateful part of the world. May he continue to convert those to the peace and love of Christ.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  7. Cleophas

    Why is Islam related with violence?

    September 9, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • SeniorMoment

      Islam spread over the Middle East as a choice between accepting it or dying, so today Muslims take a great personal risk converting to another religion while living in a primarily Muslim nation that would be unheard of in the USA. It in fact though in most respects is Christian in terms of an emphasis in taking care of your people, such as the religious mandate around prompt cleaning and burial of the dead, which has obvious public health consequences if not done. They also formally pray five times a day pointing to Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia. It is harder to be a Muslim than to be a Christian, especially the type that contribute maybe 3% of income to charity and attend church at best once a week and when making financial, business and public policy decisions rarely if ever consider first he morality of the choices.

      Muslims are required to support their own nation, even in conflicts with other Muslim nations, but the Old Testament types of punishment like cutting off the hand of a thief are still condoned even though considered to be too harsh by New Testament standards. In the U. S. though Muslims who live here follow U. S. law or wind up in prison. Actions like so called honor killings of family member are always murder felonies here.

      Like you find comparing Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews, there are differences besides historical ones among the different Muslim sects.

      An interesting note is the comprehensive coverage attire women wear in public in strict Muslim nations was in the days of Mohammed limited to use by Mohammad's wives under penalty of death, so it has always puzzled me why Muslims chose today to practice it. To me it seems like sacrilege to so blatantly ignore Mohammad's orders just to put on a religiosity front.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Mosihasteen

      Surah 9:29? I believe that's the passage in the un-holy koran.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • ja-coffalotte

      Because Allah loves a good kill.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  8. Cleophas


    September 9, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  9. Cleophas

    Christians are being killed in nothern Nigeria daily, where are the world press to tell the world?

    September 9, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  10. Nokidding

    Some of the comments on here are amazing. One asked "how this case was different than the USA forcing children to worship a Christian God?"

    Really? This guy was sentenced to DEATH. No school forces kids to do anything. Heck they don't even have to do the Pledge of allegiance any longer. There are organizations within the school where kids can participate if they CHOOSE. I hardly see anything similar here.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  11. Dave

    This is God and all muslims will die!

    September 9, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • God

      Everyone will die.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  12. Cleophas

    My grand mother and my friend where killed by islamic terrorist called Bokoharam in Maiduguri Borno state Nigeria.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • SeniorMoment

      Most of Africa is a dangerous place to live, regardless of religion. If the poisonous snakes don't get you or the large predators and heavy beasts don't your fellow man from a different tribe or economic status may do you in. It is actually unfortunate that Nigeria found oil,, since I believe it has resulted in more government corruption, which is always a barrier to economic development.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Mosihasteen

      Boko Haram has nothing to do with money and oil in Nigeria, they are the branch of Al-Qaeda in Nigeria and are targeting Christians. Not a word about that from Obama though. He is after all a Muslim sympathizer.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  13. Medicated

    Why does the filter or moderator for these blogs allow people to post n repost the same long comment that just takes up space over n over again? And so many people have trouble getting their legitimate comments posted even once? Are these comments monitored at all? They seem to be for some... And why would people want to do that to the other bloggers n readers on here? It's so disrespectful n reeks of deep seated anger. Is there no way to stop the people who do this?

    September 9, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Rick Shultz

      The filter CNN uses blocks some words and lets others by. Anyone can get around it eventually by just copying and reposting with certain changes. If they save work they don't have to retype it each time and can post as often as they like. I have a standard reply that I post when I can, but the filter does not always allow it. It did not in this particular case, probably because I said that CNN lies to people about not pre-screening their comments, and went into too much detail about how to beat it.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  14. SeniorMoment

    Religious persecution has been a constant in world history, but the actions by Iran breach the Great Compromise among Muslims, Christians and Jews declaring all their religions as acceptable based on common acceptance of the Bible (at least at different stages of its development).

    I fancifully think of it as some Jews became Christians and recognized Christ as the savior predicted by Jewish prophets, creating Catholicism which diversified after worldly corruption of the Catholic leadership to include Protestant faiths under the leadership of Martin Luther caused primarily by worldly corruption within the Catholic leadership, thus joined as Christians, followers of Christ who seek as a goal being Christ-like.

    Independently some Jews accepted Christ, but only as a prophet and when the opportunity arose recognized as their leader Mohammad and brought forth Islam with a worldly powerful enforced but also modified Christianity that accepted the idea that their leader must unite Arabs and enforce those who accepted Islam instead of death to keep their descendants under Islam under penalty of death for straying. Once the leader Mohammad died Islam then divided into different sects like Shiite and Sunni, just as Christianity divided into religious sects.

    Along then came all kinds of variations in Western religions including Mormons who I have always suspected of primarily being attracted to the promised eternal rewards and originally plural marriage. It would have had some attraction to those who combined religious extremism with plural marriage, an idea with much appeal to men with excessive testosterone. No doubt the physical demands of life in Utah also resulted in above average testosterone which can be increased by exercise.

    Now that most of the Western World hates me, let me remind you I said fanciful, as I have no desire to be a religious scholar, but that is how I visualize the evolution of religion in the Middle East, whether right nor wrong.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • TV

      Ahem... in case you haven't noticed the Catholic Church is in Europe, not the ME. Also, they gave up many of the Jewish customs and adopted European ones. So IMHO, Christianity is a European version of Judaism. There is the new Testament that says that Christ has created the "new and everlasting covenant", but the Christian Bible does include many Jewish books, i.e. the Old Testament. So whenever you can't find what you "need" (i.e. justification) for something in the New Testament, you can always go back to the Old Testament.

      September 9, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Rick Shultz

      I do not hate you at all sir, but I must agree that your description of this "Great Compromise" is indeed fanciful. I know of no such
      event having ever taken place. I do wish it had, but compromise is NOT one of mankind's strong points. Would that it was, as it would be marvelous if true. It would mean that we could stop killing each other over this whole issue.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  15. Rob

    Wow. It's JUST like when the Christians did this a few hundred years ago. Islam is much younger, so it's actually right on par with the church in terms of timing....

    September 9, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • SeniorMoment

      We seem to be on a path of entropy with religion, so one day every family may have its own religion, generally sharing humanitarianism as the most practical way to live in peace and stop arguing over faith, which by definition, will always remain short on facts versus ideas.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  16. Who?

    I keep getting stuck on the House 417-1 vote to condemn the act. Who was the one member who opposed this?

    September 9, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • Ele

      Who? I also want to find out!!!

      September 9, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Who?

      Was it the conservative who really likes the death penalty? Was it the liberal who can't stand Christians? Or maybe a Ron Paul supporter who believes in complete isolation?

      September 9, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 9, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Rob

      Believe in God not religion. Religion is for the weak minded.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 9, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. christian delos ama

    its amazing story of a man who really believe in god.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  19. GW

    Just goes to show what happens in a theocracy.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  20. floyd schrodinger

    How is this different from the schools in the USA forcing our children to worship the christian god? We don't even allow science to be taught in science classes since it's not part of christian teachings. Maybe I won't be put in jail for complaining but it's getting close.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • Mirosal

      Who is forcing it? Prayer has been outlawed in public schools since about 1962/63

      September 9, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • gliese 42

      Floyd @ Most Americans are atheist and nobody forces anybody in religion. Christians believe in heaven and hell but without the 72 virgins

      September 9, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • sbp

      So I'm guessing you don't have kids, or don't live here at all, or both. Because you're totally clueless.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Paul

      You are kidding me Floyd?!? The only religion being taught in schools these days is Islam!! You can't even mention God in school. Evolution is taught as fact! Which United States do you live in??

      As a nation, we are turning our backs on God. And we now see the consequence of that. Economic woes, unstable families, kids committing suicide, people literally tearing the faces of people, drug and alcohol use running rampant.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:04 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.