Statement on Release of Iranian Pastor

The Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (Southern Baptist Convention) has released a statement on the release of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani was imprisoned in October 2009 for apostasy and proselytism. Essentially, he is a Christian who was sharing his faith, which is illegal in Iran. The statement below addresses the issue of religious freedom and calls on the oppressive Iranian regime to honor Pastor Nadarkhani’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

The text of the statement follows:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was imprisoned by the Iranian authorities and charged with apostasy and proselytism on October 12, 2009. Over a period of nearly three years, he endured torture and was under the constant threat of death. His wife was imprisoned and his children threatened. This was all in an effort to force him to recant his Christian faith.

On September 8, 2012, the charges of apostasy were withdrawn and Pastor Nadarkhani was convicted of evangelizing Muslims and sentenced to three years in prison. He was then released from prison since he had already been held two years and 11 months.

We rejoice with Pastor Nadarkhani and his family over his release. Nevertheless, we are outraged that Iran has subjected him to such barbaric treatment. Iran’s behavior during this entire period violated one of the most basic of human rights—the freedom of conscience.

This right is granted to humanity by God. It is also affirmed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran was an original signatory: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

In protest of Iran’s inhumane treatment of Pastor Nadarkhani and countless other prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world, we reaffirm and celebrate the freedom of conscience entrusted to humanity by God the sovereign Creator, and we condemn specifically the horrific behavior of Iran toward its citizens who choose a faith other than Islam.

We call for the following:

  • that the Iranian authorities publicly apologize to Pastor Nadarkhani for their flagrant abuse of his God-given right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and for the humiliation, loss of honor, pain, suffering, and loss of livelihood to which he and his family were subjected for nearly three years,
  • that every nation honor the God-given freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and release every prisoner whose only offense relates to these.

We further commit ourselves to pray and work for the release of every prisoner of conscience and to do all that we can to promote and protect freedom of conscience here and around the world.

Finally, in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani we invite all people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the complete and everlasting forgiveness of their sin and eternal peace with God.

I am honored to be one of the Research Fellows of the ERLC who helped to craft this statement. Much of the credit should go to Dr. Barrett Duke for his initial work in drafting the document. You can join me and others who have already signed this document by clicking here and adding your name.