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. ....




    September 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  2. Grand Ole Party of Christian Taliban

    "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."
    Otherwsie, dont be an idiot and repeat your mistake. Iran has seen what Christians are doing to our country here....majority of our problem and criminals are Christians. Can we really blame Iran??????

    September 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  3. Mohammad A Dar

    To learn causes of mayhem in non-muslim world please visit my video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uwOL4rB-go

    September 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • mike


      September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  4. tuvia




    September 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  5. Honey Badger Dont Care

    This guy is a Brahamian cultist who not one xtian in the US would associate with let alone call a xtian. But when one gets thrown in jail and is "persecuted for his beliefs" they get all up in arms. What a bunch of two faced liars.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      So they are liars because they defend the rights of someone they wouldn't normally associate with? Did you read that before you sent it?

      September 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • nottolate


      "This guy is a Brahamian cultist "

      Your source?

      September 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  6. hogwash Dao

    Monotheism progressing to its extreme is evil ( medieval Xtian to modern Ixlam (wahabizm)

    September 10, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 10, 2012 at 4:44 am |
    • Douglas

      A troll like this is someone who suffers from low self-esteem issues, just recognize it and feel sorry for their pitiful life.

      September 10, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Islam is not healthy for children and other living things

      Islamism is healthy for any other living things, but not for humans since no other living things give a $H|T to 72 virgins.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  8. 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 10, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • janey33

      What this world needs to be saved from is people like you who cannot tolerate anyone who thinks differently than you.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • Kat


      September 10, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Reality

      Some results of Islamic thinking:

      As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "

      o 24) Mon Jun 4, 2012 10:18am EDT
      BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car outside a Shi'ite Muslim office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 190 in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate.

      The bombing on a Shi'ite religious office comes at a sensitive time, with the country's fractious Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs locked in a crisis that threatens to unravel their power-sharing deal and spill into sectarian tensions."

      25) BURGAS, Bulgaria | Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:27am EDT

      (Reuters) – A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

      September 10, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  9. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Is it just me or if you live in a Nation where they Kill Christian preachers, wouldn't you simply KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT? Now, I know all about why Christian do what they do, but hey, if you know you are going to get killed for doing it, then why are you complaining?

    September 9, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  10. gigi

    go youtube find for more

    September 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  11. gigi

    # 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eTvGB8vck4&feature=watch_response

    September 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  12. gigi


    September 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  13. carlos333777

    Any religion that prohibits proselytizing is totally man-made and satanic. It has nothing to do with GOD. What are these insecure imbeciles afraid of. Humans all over should be free to choose what to believe. Peer pressure is a very powerful force to subdue weak-minded morons into conforming to what religious leaders demand. GOD is big enough to defend himself. HE does not need human help. Once humans get involved you get into fratricidal conflicts all over the world. Religion in the hands of fanatics is deadlier than anthrax or a 100 megaton hydrogen bomb. Hitler was counseled by a lot theologians.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • TR6

      @carlos333777: “Any religion that prohibits proselytizing is totally man-made and satanic. “

      Like Christianity?
      6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt,
      Deuteronomy 13

      September 10, 2012 at 3:14 am |
  14. Rachel

    We join you in celebrating your freedom. 🙂
    We pray that you continue to spread the good news in the gospels so that all may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • gigi


      September 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  15. Bob Valliere

    I can understand individuals who would disagree with my faith. It only proves the insecurity of the mullahs that they would consider practice of another faith as a capital offense. I do give them some credit for backing off that sentence, and pray for strength to Yousef Naderkhani as he faces incredible challenges in practicing his faith.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  16. calvin2012

    Christians are such hypocrites...they are busy denouncing the treatment of this chap and going those "Bleep-bleep-bleep muslims etc"

    In Christianity apostasy is not punishable by death...instead the apostate gets to spend eternity in hell.

    So one in one religion you get killed in this life and spend in eternity in Jahannam, the Islamic hell, for the 'crime' of apostasy and in the other you get to spend the rest of eternity being fudge-packed on a daily basis by Satan and his big-red-ding-dong-of Beelzebub.

    Both of these religions are inherently grotesque and obviously a creation not of a divine omnipotent omniscient loving being but of man.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • janey33

      In Christianity, ANYONE can repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their Saviour, and go to Heaven, thus avoiding Hell. Christians follow Jesus, who is a divine being. If you don't believe in Him, that is up to you. Christians will not do anything to you except pray for your soul. Not so with Islam. You either believe in Allah or die. It is a miracle this man was set free.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  17. jayshelley

    Christians are no strangers to persecutionIt didn't work for the Romans and only fueled the interest in the teachings of Christ, just at it will do so in the Mideast.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Jesus freaker

      The Christians are also no stranger to persecuting others, but when they are the ones being persecuted then it's all "woe is me". I bet you have no problem persecuting gays? Am I right?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Dude I have never heard or seen a Christian persecute a gay ever!!! They can come to our church, they can do everything straight people can except marry but that's wrong sorry if you disagree but it is buddy! Read Romans chapter 1 and remember that the empire of Rome doesn't exist anymore because of sin

      September 9, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Rebel4christ..while you believe myths in a book it will allow you think to your prejudice is justified.. sorry dude it is just wrong....

      September 9, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • janey33

      Rebel4Christ...you are right on.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Russell's Teapot

      Or you know the rampant corruption, infighting, negligence, overextending resources, etc... But carry on, it'd be such a shame to allow facts to stand in the way of such a compelling argument

      September 10, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Jesus freaker

      Dude I have never heard or seen a Christian persecute a gay ever!!! They can come to our church, they can do everything straight people can except marry but that's wrong sorry if you disagree but it is buddy!

      Right...they can come to your church and listen to the gay hate sermon from your preacher and then repent and become straight like the rest of the sheep.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. Jerry

    They should arrest ALL ministers, priests, mullahs, rabbis, etc. for crimes against humanity and lock them away forever. The only safe world is a sane world and the only sane world is a world free from religion!

    September 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • jayshelley

      Sounds like someone woke up on the wrong side of the futon today.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • GAW

      Jerry the extremist....or just a kid hiding behind the protection of internet anonymity

      September 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • GAW

      .....or just a troll looking to tick people off.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Jerry....And the only safe, pure and beautiful world could be without God rejectors, where Jesus Christ our Lord and King rules and reigns in righteousness. You see, Jerry, you dear poor soul... Your Utopian dream will never come to pass. But our blessed hope is only time-distance away and will become reality. No sin and corruption will enter there, and many will weep and mourn because they have rejected Him while they still had time. They'll have no place in Christ's Kingdom. It looks like you too are going "the other" way... and you'll have plenty of company there!

      September 9, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Prism1234. you claim that "god rejectors"s are ruining the world ... how.. what have we done that makes you say that. if you look at the world events it appears to be those who claim their love of gods and Prophets are the ones dividing society and humanity. Destruction of places of worship are common place and its your fellow religious who are doing it. So far it look like the god wars are heating up... until you consider yourself a a member of the human race first and foremost, there is no hope. Prism..oh and nice try with the fear mongering. what if the muslims were correct.. you are in deep do do with Mo when you go......

      September 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • janey33

      In this country we have freedom OF religion. We are free to believe what we want. Sounds like it is you who should be locked up for denying our freedom. It's up to us whether we want to bellieve or not. What are you so afraid of???

      September 10, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  19. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    Human Rights abuse that it was to arrest this minister, I wonder if it compares to how the U.S. treats similar situations of Mullahs here. They are probably detained in Gitmo. They probably don't have access to a "trial" or an attorney. They are likely waterboarded, etc. So let's not be too quick to let the pot call the kettle "black." The U.S. USED to be above this kind of stuff, but not since the Republicans pushed their way into government.

    September 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • belinda

      We should support Christians in the Middle East. They are so brave. No one should have to live in fear, because of what Religion they believe in.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • jayshelley

      In the US our persecution is focused on war criminals (and rubes who didn't have neough to buy their way out of Cuba). But in Iran, 80 million are held hostage by the mullahs. One word or look in the wrong direction, and you are taken out back of the mosque to face an AK.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      What we should do is keep our stinking noses out of other country's affairs. We shouldn't be telling other countries how to rule their nations. We aren't doing such a great job over here right now.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • janey33

      thecollegeadmissionsguru...that's okay...we'll do much better once we get Obama out of the White House.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • janey33

      Republicans have just as much right in our government as Democrats. This country has a two-party system. If you don't like it, there are several other countries you can live in.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  20. james

    Jesus was silent before his accusers . Therefore let us be Christlike .

    September 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
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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.