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. ScottCA


    September 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  2. ScottCA

    Religion teaches us nothing about morailty

    September 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm |



      September 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Relgion is not healthy for children and other living things

      Hi Marie-Ange, You must be best friends with Suzie

      September 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  3. BurnNotice

    Darned if they do, darned if they don't ... the Iranians are always bad, and the Saudi's, who are even more repressive, are always good.

    What a stinking, steaming, crock of crap.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • wjshelton

      Nicely put, BurnNotice.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • DK

      To quote the previous poster, "What a stinking, steaming, crock of crap.".

      September 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • nope


      September 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  5. Dr.Watch

    Why are the United States, Iran, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan so damn racist?

    September 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Religion has a lot to do with it. But there are other factors at work as well. For example, we tend as humans to believe that any differences on the surface of something relate to a difference internally in the object as well. Thus even small changes to the face or skin leads humans to believe there are fundamental differences inside other people who look different. This is just one of the reasons why we behave so foolishly.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Son of the South

      I bet that ScottCA and Dr. Watch are one and the same...........

      September 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • ScottCA

      You will lose the bet.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • ScottCA

      I don't agree with Dr. singling out those specific countries, these problems are common to all humanity in all nations.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  6. louis

    "You're not allowed your own brand of stupidity; so, we're going to kill you because you are not stupid enough - like us." That could be said from either side of the religious wars.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      becomes atheism

      September 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  7. 4 WORDS


    September 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  8. Alex

    Funny is, somebody had death penalty because of his religion and nobody cared about it except a lunatic Pat Robertson.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • lordkid7777

      Pat is not a lunatic, we Christians saints will deal with you all disrespect in due time...

      September 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • ScottCA

      lordkid7777, So much hate being spoken. Thanks for displaying so clearly how religion can teach us nothing about morality.
      Faith means to believe in something for no good reason, thus it can tell us nothing about what we should do or what we ought to so; both of these require reasons based in logic.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Son of the South

      lordkid (or is that Loooord, Kid! ) that is NOT Christianity. We do NOT "deal with "them" later." That is not the way Jesus does things, Sir.

      September 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  9. lordkid7777


    September 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • ScottCA

      God exists only in your imagination.
      There is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of god.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • BurnNotice

      With who?

      With what?

      The Age of Reason began several centuries ago, and you have a lot of catching up to do.

      September 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  10. lordkid7777

    People, listen to me, we Christian saints of GOD will judge the WORLD. GOD said: "Do ye not know that the Saints Shall Judge the WORLD? and if the world shall be Judged BY You, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" 1 CORINTHIANS 6:2 KJV...

    September 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Damocles

      Ok, I listened, now what?

      September 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      Why did we ever stop feeding you to the lions ?

      September 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  11. allison2

    Now that's a courageous man. Best of luck to him and his family.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • lordkid7777

      I just know, who and what I am In CHRIST.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • End Religion

      @lordkid: "I just know, who and what I am In CHRIST."
      His appendix?

      September 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  12. lordkid7777

    GOD name is not Allah...That's a false name by a false religion!!!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Alex

      God in Aramaic (language that Jesus spoke) is Elah, no doubt a variant of the same word as Allah

      September 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  13. agentxyz

    In letting the infidel go free, Allah once again shows his benevolence

    September 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • lordkid7777

      I can't wait to judge you. GOD said your words will self-condemn you.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • End Religion

      I like this LordKid fellow. He's got the old school fire and brimstone balls. He's got that Old Timey religion coursing through his veins. Crazy as my Aunt Matilda, sure, but energetic with his delusions. I'm gonna give him a 9.4. Judges, what say ye?

      September 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. lordkid7777

    People,we Christians will judge you all non believers at the end times.

    September 9, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • agentxyz

      At the end times, Lordkid777 went up to heaven and was met by a God with two heads and one hundred arms. God thundered, "why didn't you believe in me?" The non-believer said, "I was ignorant my Lord, but I believe in you now." And God's heads both smiled, and one said in a gentle voice, "Go on in my son. You are forgiven."

      Bostontola went up to heaven, and God thundered, "Why did you pray to a false God?" Bostontola replied, "Because I thought Jesus was my saviour and I thought you were the devil. But I believe in you now" God's heads both smiled and he morphed into a gentle man with long hair on a cross. Lordkid777 crossed himself and said, "I knew it Lord, I wasn't deceived." Whereupon the man on the cross changed back into the many armed God who now held a knife in each hand and cut him into pieces. The God turned to his two chief angels and said, "Sheesh. I'm beat. Hey Osama and Sadaam, how many do we have left today?"

      September 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou


      People,we Christians will judge you all non believers at the end times

      I have judged you.
      NUT CASE.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  15. Bootyfunk

    religions sure do hate each other.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  16. Beam

    Wonderful news!

    September 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  17. the Christian God sentenced countless innocent babies to death

    On more than one occasion.
    What a great guy he is!
    Hey, dont get mad at me, it's all in your bible............
    Christians assure us that we will burn in agony forever if we don't whole-heartedly accept this bloodthirsty monster and his yes-man Baby Jesus as our supreme and perfect masters.
    What a wonderful philosophy they have!

    September 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  18. quinterius

    Another proof that all the Western media and officials lie about Iran. The man was never sentenced to die.

    September 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • N. Silvestri

      Wow...caught you in a lie! Happen to know people involved with his case! I feel sorry for you that you'd rather lie and cover up evil then strive for justice and love. Hope you find truth in the end.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  19. Sal

    Those stupid people sentence people to death for the most dumbest reasons......

    September 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. Will

    "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."

    Does anyone know which nit-wit voted against this?

    September 9, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Thomas Henley

      I'd have been the nit-wit voting against it...first we don't actually have a legal or moral authority to dictate the laws and customs of another sovereign nation. Our congress would be better using its time to deal with the serious problems real Americans face right her in America.

      Second it's real simple, most of these nations like Iran, like Iraq, like Afghanistan operate with unspoken codes that are meant to promote religious harmony...don't try to evangelize or prostylitize to anyone, muslims won't try to to convert Christians or Jews, Jews shouldn't try to convert Christians or Muslims, Christians shouldn't try to convert Muslims or Jews.

      As long as no one attempts to 'poach' on the other guy's congregation they all get along fine, the minute some Bible Thumper comes to town with Christian Coloring Books and Prayer Cards that all goes out the window.

      The process of evangelizing to non-Christians is one that's only led to millions upon millions of deaths throughout history with the Christian faithful being primarly the only party oblivious to that result.

      Believe what you want to believe...no one is going to begrudge you that, start selling it to others and in many parts of the world you can find yourself in a world of trouble.

      It's not about right and wrong it's about respecting other people's cultures and agreements with one another.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • midwest rail

      Why is anyone asking who voted against ? Google is your friend. It took me roughly 30 seconds to find the answer to your question.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • ScottCA

      Hey Thomas good to see you, Faith based Religion is a parasitic meme, infesting humanity. Faith means to believe in something for no good reason, it is to choose ignorance over evidence and thus it is dangerous.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:54 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.