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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. Mennoknight

    We read about this man in the Voice of the Martyrs and prayed that God would set him free.
    Praise God as He has answered our prayers.
    It seems that there are many Hamans are still trying to cause problems for God's people in Persia today.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, for fvck's sake. You and your prayers didn't have sh!t to do with anything, you manure-spreading horse-beater.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Mennoknight

      Ah Tom Tom the angry lady you calls people names.

      Please go see your psychologist and deal with your anger problems.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I "calls people names"?

      I can see your 8th grade education has take you far, grasshopper buggy driver.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Zoby

      Never mix chili and 7 up... awww man *farts*

      September 9, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Do you have any friends or do you scare them all away?

      September 9, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What's the matter, Menopause? Can't answer the question? Color me shocked.

      Do you think I give a god -damned sh!t about your opinion of me, you fvckin' moron?

      September 9, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Low n slow

      Tom, why do you feel the need to push you beliefs on others, while insulting and offending them? You really are just like the worst example of a self righteous Christian.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Tom, I am praying for. You can come to my Mennonite church tomorrow in Northern Saskatchewan Canada and stay for a BBQ and Potato Salad and ice tea (watered down to much) if you are in the neighborhood.
      We will be playing a game of baseball afterwards and drink more of the watered down ice tea before we head to Canada's Country Music Awards in Saskatoon in the evening.
      God Bless

      September 9, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Thanks for the invite. I'm busy.

      As for accepting others' beliefs, I'm all for it, as long as they accept my unbelief equally. Otherwise, they can fvck themselves.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Tom, Tom,
      Any time you are in Central Saskatchewan give me a holler and I will find you a free place to stay the night and a hot meal to boot.
      And you can hold to what ever you think, but expect some questions pointed your way.
      Oh and we have LOTS of jobs up here. Best economy in the world right now. Loads of us Americans moving here. Just last week we got a new couple from Indiana.
      Boy are they going to be in for a shock this winter.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Mennoknight

      Oh and Tommy, I have a Masters in Theology (from a back woods cabin with a pot bellied wood stove, but we did have heat!)
      Finished in the top 52%. Pretty good Eh? (Dang, been in Canada to long).
      And I do know how to milk a cow by hand, butcher chickens in my sleep and fix a dirt bike and rebuild an pick-up truck engine too.
      All things good Mennonites learn how to do by the time they are 10

      September 9, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Honey, I have a house in one of the most expensive suburbs in the DC area. I don't need or want to go elsewhere. I have museums, concert halls, baseball, football, and the most highly educated neighbors in the nation.

      What do you have?

      Not much, based on your posts.

      Regardless, I wish you no ill. I simply don't give a ripe fvck what you believe, unless your beliefs conform to US law. If not, blow me. No one who lives here needs your belief or your god to be happy or fulfilled. Nor does anyone in this country need to abide by your superst itions.

      There's nothing more to be said.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • End Religion

      "'Praise God as He has answered our prayers."

      Enlighten me: if its presumptuous and not at all humble to ask god to change his mind, why pray? God commands you be humble, and many of you assert "god's will be done" but why bother? Why say "god's will be done" as if you need to condone it, and further, pray for some outcome or other when you have no change to affect that outcome. If you know god will do as he wants, why pray for a certain outcome? Especially when you know in the past you've prayed for something that hasn't happened? Obviously, if there's a god, he'll do what he wants. Why pray?

      September 9, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  2. Evolve

    I heard that scientists in europe created a pill that will give anyone who takes it an IQ of 140, but it was destroyed by the vatican because they considered it a threat to the church.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  3. solomon

    WHERE ARE THE AMERICAN PREACHERS WHO SHUT THEIR MOUTH WHEN A MORMON PRESIDENT IS RUNNING FOR OFFICE AND SAY NOTHING?LET THEM LEARN FROM THIS YOUNG IRANIAN PASTOR WHAT A TRUE CHRISTIAN IS.IF THEY WERE THERE THEY ALL DENY THEIR FAITH. THEY ONLY KNOW HOW TO BEG MONEY ON TV.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Herman Munster

      Did they ever arrest that guy that used to rub your checks on TV while praying?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Mennoknight

      I fully agree with you but you don't need to shout. Turn off the caps lock.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nobody cares whether you agree or not, Menopause. You're about as relevant as a buggy whip.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  4. Low n slow

    A few observations:
    1 Every religion story brings out the dogmatic atheists en mass to rant and push their belief system.
    2 Even though atheists are outnumbered by about 20 to 1 in society, they seem to outnumber Christians, Muslims and Jews commenting and pushing their agenda.
    3 one of the main things atheists complain about are the religious pushing their opinions on others.
    4 Atheist must be stunningly hypocritical.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Herman Munster

      Many are just trolls trying to make atheists look bad...

      September 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • End Religion

      @low n slow: (that is the tempo)
      "1 Every religion story brings out the dogmatic atheists en mass to rant and push their belief system."

      it bring us out in an attempt to educate. In this case, once again, a=not + theist=one who believes in a god
      saying we have a belief system is like saying transparent is a color
      continuing to say espouse we have a belief system even in the face of proof to the contrary only illustrates why its so difficult to educate folks who don't believe in facts.

      "2 Even though atheists are outnumbered by about 20 to 1 in society, they seem to outnumber Christians, Muslims and Jews commenting and pushing their agenda."

      apparently its @9:1 but i suppose we both have our propaganda machines that will keep us at odds on this, so let's agree to 14.5:1. Now what does it have to do with anything?

      "3 one of the main things atheists complain about are the religious pushing their opinions on others."

      That, and the fact that while we've remained mostly silent in the past while the religious nutters went about their proselytizing, we now live in a time where even one nutter could get ahold of a nuke and bring about his End Times fantasy. The time for your imaginary friends must come to an end to continue on as a species.

      "4 Atheist must be stunningly hypocritical."

      Oh you mean to say we're hypocritical because we assert facts? I'm not sure the word hypocrisy means what you think it means. Maybe hypocrisy means:

      Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25
      "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
      ...AND YET...
      Why are so many pastors clothed in such fine suits, driving such fine cars, building churches far more gaudy then necessary to simply pass on the words of their frugal master? Jesus walked around in a sheet. He didn't own anything did he? He said "sell all your possessions." Low n slow, if you are a christian, the man who you follow and the son of god has commanded you to own NOTHING. You are disobeying your god. But then again religion is very nearly defined as hypocrisy so why not disobey and then preach to others how they should live?

      I was going to go on with more of this crap since its so easy but really, there are other religious nutters who need education as well. Got to move on....

      September 9, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Every religion story brings out the dogmatic CHRISTIANS en mass to rant and push their belief system.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Matt

    Get a life guys, all of you were born perfect, you guys just need some wings to be attached to your bodies and that will make you even better in terms of perfection...

    September 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  6. mike jones

    Who in the house of reps voted against it?

    Just wondering?

    September 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • MoodyMoody

      Lois Capps, Democrat from California, but she later stated that she pressed the wrong button when she voted.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  7. Islam Loves Women

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYpuXpbf0jg&w=640&h=390]

    September 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  8. Devon

    I know most people here that follow CNN will be upset about this man being freed as he is after an ex muslim that is now a Christian...that is anathema to the vile brain dead liberals here...but the rest of decent civilized humanity across the globe is applauding this freedom for this dear man.....

    September 8, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Herman Munster

      What is it with you nutjobbers that makes you think Liberals would not be happy about this? Is there some mental defect in the Tea Pot mind?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Was that a rhetorical question?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Phil

      What are you talking about? I consider myself politically liberal. I'm also an atheist. But I applaud this man being able to practice Christianity, the religion of his choice. Religious freedom is one of the most basic principles of liberal democracy - and by that I mean the form of government on which the United States itself was founded, and which most of the western world now emulates in varying degrees.

      "Religious freedom" doesn't mean just "free to practice Christianity". It means being able to practice any religion you like - or none at all - with the government remaining strictly neutral.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • End Religion

      I know you came out for beer and batteries for the radio but its time to get back in your bunker. Limbaugh is back from break.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      You wouldnt know a liberal if he bit you.
      I hope one does.

      September 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  9. Isam Loves Women

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJR3keih6CQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  10. SS

    When the whole of society voluntarily gives up religion, they'd have a better shot at enlightenment.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Devon

      No...when a society gives up Islam and radical secularism, a nation becomes enlightened....

      September 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • cgkai

      what a pathetic excuse for a religious doctorine. Kill those who don't agree...

      September 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • cgkai

      I thought we EVOLVED beyond this kind of thinking in the world...late 1600's maybe (applying "social" Darwinism loosely).

      September 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • SS

      Who said anything about killing anyone? Did you not read the words "give up VOLUNTARILY"????

      September 9, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  11. True believer

    Where the Heck is ACLU on this.?
    Oh wait they are supporting Iran and other Issues that is scrowing us

    September 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • MoodyMoody

      The AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union focuses on domestic issues. We have enough of our own screw-ups to keep them busy. The Murfreesboro mosque wasn't as serious as this, but the public response and bureaucratic foot-dragging was just as stupid.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  12. John Doe

    The Iranian regime is more than willing to murder its own citizens for merely converting to another religion, so we all know what they think of the rest of the non-Muslim world.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  13. DeeCee1000

    SOMEbody please take up a collection for the poor man! He's in desperate need of rhinoplasty. How on earth is he able to hold his head up? My gawd.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Simon Peter

      From what I understand he is extremely sick, probably a political move. But thank God he is back home with his family. Christians better start getting used to this.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      We've yet to see the 7 years of living hell on earth, after the world's "savior" comes on the scene. And it will not be an early exit for Christians, as many shallow, frivolous preachers spread their teachings... There are many surprises comming to drowsy, lulibied Christians. But nothing compares to what the ungodly will encounter!

      September 8, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      We understand you prefer your tiny nose.

      http://youtu.be/oeKAAAjyRFo

      September 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • End Religion

      @prism: "We've yet to see the 7 years of living hell on earth, after the world's "savior" comes on the scene."
      I think we had that in the early 80's. All that synthesizer pop music and such. Bad times.

      "And it will not be an early exit for Christians, as many shallow, frivolous preachers spread their teachings..."
      like you?

      "There are many surprises comming to drowsy, lulibied Christians."
      yep. Atheism. That always takes'm by surprise once they finally pierce their veil of ignorance.

      "But nothing compares to what the ungodly will encounter!"
      we're going to encounter exactly what you encounter. a life of unknown length on this planet and then nothing.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Lulibied? Do explain your incapacity for communicating in English.

      You do the Savior no favors by being illiterate.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  14. Motoman

    Hallelujah!

    September 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  15. tiredofwar

    Pat Robertson running a christian organization in Iran! Iran must be extremely liberal then.....

    September 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  16. Mintaroo

    what millenium are we in ? [ catching my breath ] obviously 3/4 of the middle east is off my vacation list . they took this man from his family for 3 years with threat of execution. Maybe it is better to convince his whole family and move to either Israel or America.Anywhere but to that hell.Happy he is back with his family ,head attached to shoulders .

    September 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  17. wakeupHumanity

    Religion is so damaging. Get over it. Find a cure. Join the here and now. Be productive. Stop spending all that time praising invisible men. It's a waste of your time in this special event called, "Your life."

    September 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  18. Prime Controller

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0&w=640&h=390]

    September 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Prime Controller

      Sweet, I knew I would get it.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  19. Zoby

    You could land an airplane on that nose.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      It sticks out so far that it looks like it's several feet closer to the camera lens than the rest of his face.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      You are satan's seed.....
      You do not see his beautiful soul!

      September 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Huh? I 'do not see his beautiful soul"? Whose? Satan's?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • End Religion

      We understand your nose is smaller...

      http://youtu.be/oeKAAAjyRFo

      September 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Cam

      DeeCee1000,

      Yes, it does look like the photo was taken using a fish-eye lens!

      September 9, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  20. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Lucifer means nothing else but a hindu, denier of truth absolute, LU, on path of ci, from heart and mind, F or in Latin ,PH, meanin's high or translated as truth him self or god, e related to R path, meaning, one claiming himself to be truth absolute or, God, otherwise known as a hindu, Jew,secular, atheist or a pig. for more visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html

    September 8, 2012 at 11:25 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.