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 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      And the hits just keep on coming.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  2. ScottCA


    September 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Yep FWS, ScottCA went right to the videos. Nothing irritating about that.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  3. ScottCA


    September 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Why do I get a headache as soon as I see a video on the blog?

      September 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • End Religion

      @ungodly: because its tougher to continue passing off religious manure as truth in the face of them?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  4. bzonline123

    Just get you another reason to be beaten in the future. This is America, some of us have more than one face. And some of us is really good to disguise.

    September 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Wait, what?


      September 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • End Religion

      he's saying he could really use a mocha grande latte right about now. Sheesh, was that so hard to understand?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  5. Can being alive kill you?

    Well if he sneaks out of the country he should be able to fit most of his students in his nose and take them with him.

    September 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • End Religion

      I suppose you're asserting he has a bigger nose than you?


      September 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Christian Atheist

    Praise God if that is ok.

    September 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Praise Him

      Praise the Lord!!

      September 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  7. Ungodly Discipline

    My thorns, now flies.
    Buzzing around my gruesome head and face.
    My wasted body……finally brought down. Breathe still in me, just a whisper.
    Nurtured and cleansed. Bandaged and cared for.
    Now I am risen to say my final farewell.
    Do not worship me.
    Do not mourn for me.
    Do not build churches for me or profit from me.
    I am a man, born of a woman from the seed of my father.
    I am as you are. A man and a human being.
    Learn from the sacrifices I have made. Learn from the hypocrisy.
    Bury me in good company. Remember me as a friend.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Musings

      Did you write that? It is very powerful. There are some who see Jesus as a persecuted rabbi of his own time, a man who always thought of himself as firstly a Jew. They believe that the epistles were written first, before the Gospels, and that the proselytizing by Paul to the diaspora Jews and non-Jews was the first stage of creating a universal church. After that, the Gospels were written to make the message more generally available. The historic details of the Gospels were not up to standards of journalistic reportage in recent centuries, but heroic tales amounting to a mythology (according to these thinkers). Therefore, many believe that we have misunderstood this "wonder rabbi' for centuries, although his message is still valid. It is His message I care about, not the doctrines of a very flawed Church.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Yes, I am glad it spoke to you.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Ally821

      I really can't understand why people worship Jesus...more than God Himself!, when it was God who created us(including Jesus). Jesus said in the Bible, "Worship One God, my Lord and your Lord" and he "can do nothing of his own" except through the power of God. Jesus is NOT the son of God! Why would God Almighty need a son? I mean, seriously. What purpose would that serve? It just doesn't make sense. God needed no one when he created this entire universe and every living and non-living thing on it, (before and after Jesus) and therefore He will need no one to grant forgiveness to others when we die. Stop the blasphemy, people!

      My other gripe with Christians is why they would take a human being as a savior. Jesus came for one purpose, which was to correct the Rabbis and spread the word of God (as a messenger). Is God Almighty not capable of forgiving sins on His own, without a middle-man? Of course He is! So what does He need Jesus for? The answer: as a witness. Not as a savior. Jesus will be a witness on judgement day against those who disregarded and/or distorted his message. Think about it: if Jesus is suppose to be a savior for only those who believe in him, them what will happen to other great people before him?...like Abraham, Noah, Joseph, etc, etc? Are Gods chosen prophets doomed for eternity because they were unfortunate enough to not be able to know Jesus? That's ludicrous!

      I don't know about anyone else, but I would truly be worried if I had to be judged by a Great God who needs a "son" in order to know who to forgive. And I would be even MORE worried that this same God took this INNOCENT mans life for the sins of others. Doesn't sound like the JUST God I pray to.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • jwt

      Just remember ally that i was not created by your god so none of it's stuff applies to me.

      September 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • End Religion

      " Bury me in good company. Remember me as a fraud."
      Fixed that last line for ye. Arrggghhhh...

      September 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Fun with Solipsism

    The Universe ceases to exist at the moment of your death.

    Likewise, the Universe springs into existence at the moment of comprehension.

    “Reality” is personal. It is not universal. What I believe, is true. What I perceive, is real.

    The reason physics becomes unrecognizable as we get close to death is because we realize at that point that WE are the God we seek. We create our reality only to destroy it and start again for all of eternity.

    Nothing can be proven beyond the existence of the self. No perception felt by the mind can be regarded as truly verifiable, and so its existence is not certain. Hence, nothing outside the mind of the observer can be rationally confirmed.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Fun with Solipsism

      Amen... !!! to my solipsistic brother.

      I am so glad that I made you up ! 😀


      September 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Fun with Solipsism

      Same here therealpeace2allf !!

      Since I have decided to convert from atheism to Solipsism, you are invited to the party brother!

      The ceremony is going to be a blast, I will be having all my friends and family over and un-validating their existence.

      Then it will just be a free-for-all. I will also be getting a tattoo of my own face on my a.s.s.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      LOL !!! 😀


      September 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • ScottCA

      you are an imbecile trying to deny reality exists. But you will not step off the roof of a 10 story building because you know from predictive power and logical reasoning that you will fall to your death.


      September 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Fun with Solipsism


      Don't get mad! Can't you post five or six videos to explain your point?

      September 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      Chillax dude... Your attack of @Fun with Solipsism seems to me to be unwarranted.

      You don't even know if it's his world-view...and... It also appears that you missed the *Fun* part of his 'moniker' in *Fun* with Solipsism part.

      All in good fun and discussion.


      September 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • John


      September 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  9. Maria B.

    Praise be to God almighty.Jehovah is His name!

    September 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Praise Him

      Praise God! Yeah!!

      September 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • End Religion

      "Jehovah is His name!"
      Well, if you're born into certain countries at certain times in history it will seem this way to you. Other times, or in other countries, your "truth" unravels.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    September 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi prayerbot.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Hear Ye

      You're just not getting it . . . RELIGION changes everything. Responsible for all wars and human strife. Give your brainwashed head a shake.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ

      This article is literally proof that prayer changes things!!!

      September 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline


      You are such a Rebel! Wow!

      September 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Jiminy Cricket

      "This article is literally proof that prayer changes things!!!"

      I'm claiming this one. It was I (and a few others), who wished upon stars for this human being's release, that caused it to happen.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • End Religion

      I wish prayer would change my adult diaper. I keep sitting here in my own filth, praying, yet the smell only gets worse as the days pass.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  11. Finna

    Lets give peace a chance. embrace Jesus and you wil find peace 4ur soul.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I bet if I embrace Jesus I will find more than peace...that boy!

      September 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • End Religion

      Embrace me and get a piece.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  12. Royce

    I have a question to all. Why is it that the USA allows Muslems to practice the Quran here as a free religion and there are no Christian Churches in Iran and other Muslem Countries (if any, maybe a few)? Does it not work both ways? Does this make a religious statement that no one is truly free from political hostage taking?

    September 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      "Doesn't it work both ways?"

      Um, no. This is a free country. There is a fairly large and uh, obvious difference.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • gg

      Are your suggesting we should be like Iran? This is a country with freedom of Religion and I prefer to keep it that way.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I will go both ways if I have enough to drink.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Ally821

      Uhmm... what?!

      September 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • 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 5:01 am |
  13. Christian Atheist

    I really believe this man should become a saint. Naturally, I can't worship him but it would be nice for the chuch when I go on Sundays.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  14. labia




    September 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  15. Ungodly Discipline

    She danced
    Each jewel on her gown flying outward
    Perhaps never to return
    Each shiny gem in a cloud of total darkness
    She danced and she sang
    Her gown twirling like a pinwheel faster and faster still
    Soon to become many
    And many to become light
    And that light to become trillions of sparkles
    Still she danced
    And now the swirls were as giants dancing
    And the dancing giants would collide in beautiful confusion
    And forever the spinning would last
    Unless it stopped

    September 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Hear Ye

      You made us dizzy. I had to throw up.

      September 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • poulose

      Ungodly Discipline?
      What are you trying to say? Make your point simple and easy to understand.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  16. correctlycenter

    Thank you LORD...

    September 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Praise Him

      Praise the Lord!

      September 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Lord

      You're welcome!

      September 8, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  17. dan

    This is how Muslims claim that their religion is dominant by persecuting Christians. If Islam is the true religion, Muslims need not to be afraid and they do not need to force people to by Muslims. Too many Muslims are Muslims against their free will.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • God of Thunder

      dan, I totally agree. Same applies to Christians. Good call.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Can being alive kill you?

      Let me tell you something about that.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      This is how Christian claim that their religion is dominant by persecuting Pagans. If Christ is the true religion, Christian need not to be afraid and they do not need to force people to by Christian . Too many Christian are Christian against their free will.


      September 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • End Religion

      The only "proof" a religious person will accept for whether or not their religion is the "true" one, is simply by saying so. You say your religion is true and so do they. Therefore, whichever religion has the most people saying it is so, wins. Islam has now been defined (in as much as crazy religious people accept non-proof as proof) as the one true religion. Christians are hereby ordered to disband. And since you probably won't like that ruling you may want to consider joining the ranks of Atheism. We could use your wacky thought processes to help convince Muslims they're delusional.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  18. Mohammad

    You know what you learn from this story? Nobody cared what the pastor did or does for a long time, he practiced his religion and preaching very comfortably, in fact he was so comfortable that he lodged a protest against an Islamic school because he felt his children are exposed to Quran forcefully. When you know that Muslim children in Christian schools listen to the bible in Iran, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, etc and no one lodges any protests you realize that this Pastor was looking for a headline and headline he got. I am glad that his ordeal is over but 3 years in prison looks just about right for what he did. Last thing I learnt from this is the Mulla's will give you space perhaps as much space as any European or Western country would give to a practicing Muslim but don't push your luck.

    September 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      " But don't push your luck "

      LOL ! 😀 Really ?


      September 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      There are areas in this country where if you didn't join the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (I mean the revised version, under "God"), you'd be lucky to get home in one piece...

      September 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      You got that right, brother ! I make it a policy to basically stay away from some of those places, unless absolutely necessary.


      September 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline


      I haven't had anything to do with the pledge for as long as I can remember. I do get some angry looks but where I live is very liberal

      September 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i haven't done the pledge in 12 years; don't get me wrong i love this county but i wont bow to their god. i really do want to take the pledge again, once i can ill probably cry

      September 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      @sam: bad news, friend. After we get rid of religion we're going to get rid of national borders. Your pride in your country only serves to divide us all as humans. Its just as ridiculous as religion, which serves only to divide us. You have as much control over where you're born as you do over which religion (or lack thereof) you're born into. And with both, while you can give up the one you were born into, most of us don't. Personal nationalistic pride is nearly a silly as saying "God bless America." And you thought convincing people to give up religion was tough... it'll take a long time to get rid of nationalism.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  19. Dey Vischini, change your reality

    is dey mahakaba thde sun ba ho ga loong lang the ket ket mua ho sun ba dey makataba

    September 8, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • End Religion

      Yes, but be sure to soak the chicken in soy sauce for a few hours first. It will help keep the chicken moist during grilling.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  20. EMcK

    If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

    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, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 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. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

    Deuteronomy 13.

    Hmmm . . . .

    September 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Praise Him

      I love Deuteronomy. He is so cool, right? Praise the Lord!

      September 8, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • joe

      Moses wrote Deuteronomy, its old testament and must be taken with a grain of salt.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      So by that logic, all of the Old Testament should be taken with a grain of salt ?

      September 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Christian Atheist

      Taken with a grain of salt? The Bible shouldn't be taken at all! You leave it right in the drawer of your room.

      September 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Grain of salt? Don't you mean a grain of sand?

      September 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • End Religion

      Yes, he meant the bible should be taken with grains of sand..

      September 8, 2012 at 11:54 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.