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. davidbiz

    God, Allah....etc...didn't create religion. MAN did! Knowing the one thing that terrifies mankind is DEATH and what happens next, religions have taken the opportunity to build themselves and their empires, on fear and hope. The separatism religion creates, the hatred, judgement and intolerance, are all in conflict with the true message: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Simple! It's all right there! Everything else is corporate greed and control!

    September 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Yes, Allah the truth absolute, did not create religion but Allah gave human Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute, corrupted by hindu Jew's, criminal self centered and imposed as religion's on humanity. for more visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

      September 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  2. oleg

    those who kill in name of god are demons.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  3. DeeCee1000

    Wow! His nose takes up half his face!

    September 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • lj

      Hey, that's not nice. It only takes up a 3rd of his face if you count his forehead.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Sharol B

      Insults and cruelty seem to be the way of the world these days.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That's a five-head.


      September 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Michael J.

      And your dick tapes up the space of a particle of dust.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Michael J. , that's not what you said last time you su*ked me dry.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  4. jim

    Ah, lets nuke em anyway. We can spare a little plutonium, and the world will be a better place

    September 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • whuddeva

      And the millions of Iranians who are opposed to the situation are to be wiped out as well?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Prime Controller


    September 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  6. Amazed

    "In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a 417-1 vote a resolution condemning Iran for imprisoning Nadarkhani".

    Who was the 1 bonehead who voted for this guys imprisonment?!!!! That's why I'm amazed! Please, someone find out who voted against this resolution.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • And this surprises you, why?

      The 1 vote against was a muslim. And there you have it.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  7. nonPCrealist

    "In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a 417-1 vote a resolution condemning Iran for imprisoning Nadarkhani," ... Did one guy owe him money or something?

    September 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • bluedolphin53

      Anybody know who the "1" was?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  8. Prime Controller

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UEqHGbh0wI?feature=player_embedded&w=640&h=360%5D

    September 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  9. JFH

    CNN loves to to find stories like this on bashing Muslims. With all the news in the world CNN manages to find Muslims/Christians stories for headlines...

    September 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      meanwhile no p4ss7 riot, even my local newspaper had a story about them, you know the one they preformed sacrilege and crashed a temple to demonstrate a political view (exactly what Christ did) and the Christians wanted to give them life in jail(almost exactly what the pharisees did) but instead the got 7 years

      September 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Dont like the message,
      shoot the messenger, right ?

      September 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  10. government cheese

    Most liberals want this guy dead.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Prime Controller

      And you are a dog cwnt.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  11. Prime Controller

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0?feature=player_embedded&w=640&h=360%5D

    September 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  12. total nonsense

    Reliions(All of them) made to control the extremly simple minded. But the whorst of them all is Islam. and it NEED to be whipedout the planet ASAP.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  13. alientech

    A lucky one. The one in Tunisia couple weeks ago wasn't so lucky and had his head sawed off with a knife while the crowed chanted 'God is great'. There might be no God, but Muslims prove there certainly is Satan.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  14. Prime Controller

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0?rel=0&w=640&h=360%5D

    September 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  15. foreigner

    God knows what he really believes in i doubt that his idea of jesus is the same as joyce meyer's or rush limbaugh's.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  16. ethiopianadventistdc

    What a wonderful news to read. I am grateful this happened so soon.

    September 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  17. thatguyoverthere

    Gotta wonder why the us media is playing up this "prosecuted christian" angle so much

    September 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • bluedolphin53

      Would you feel better if it was a story about a persucuted muslim? Or persecuted buddhist?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      hello 2000 years any one

      September 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Fearless Freep


      Gotta wonder why the us media is playing up this "prosecuted christian" angle so much

      They did it to get your panties in a knot.
      It worked huh ?

      September 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  18. Mark

    Congratulations. You have just been flagged by a real Christian.

    September 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What is a "real" Christian? How does he/she differ from a "false" Christian?

      Guess what? You're ALL phony.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Groo22

      So Tom, you've met every Christian on the planet? I LOL every time I read somebody talking about how stupid this or that religion is and then spew some ignorant bile directed at whatever group of people they don't like. It's funny that people will generalize a group of people and call them hypocrites and then turn around and do the exact same thing they accused the other people of doing. Ya gotta live and let live Tom, the world's not going to change on a whim for you.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You know what, azzhole? I know Christians who walk the walk. Most of the jit-bags here don't come close to qualifying. If you can prove otherwise, do so. If not, stick it up your fundament. I'm not impressed.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • cn

      groo–it's because tom2 likely recognizes that all religions are equally untrue. tell me, are you a christian? if so, why is it you have a computer? didn't jesus command you to give away all your possessions to the poor? he was just a carpenter–compared to him, everyone alive in the US is wealthy. didn't jesus say it was easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than to get into heaven? the vast majority of followers of any monotheism pick and choose whatever they like out of their man made texts to support their behavior, making them hypocrites by definition. when tom says there is no such thing, he breaks no such rules. see the difference?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ


      Real Christians look like the description in this song!

      September 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  19. Prime Controller

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0?rel=0&w=853&h=480%5D

    September 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Sam Yaza


      you welcome

      September 8, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Prime Controller

      What am I doing wrong?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  20. fedupwithla

    He looks like a nice and calm person. Definitely not the stereotypical Iranian. See, maybe they can be nice after all . . .

    September 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • lol noob

      hahahah you are one of those idiots who have an idea of people drawn in their mind that is shaped by the media. typical red neck

      September 8, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Brandon

      Actually Persians are outside the norm. Most of them are rather westernized and not exactly what you would consider "practicing" muslims

      September 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i have been to Iran its better then Missouri any day by a f4ck3n long shot

      September 8, 2012 at 11:12 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.