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Youcef Nadarkhani

Country: Iran

Key Fact: Pastor the Iranian government repeatedly has targeted  

Start of Latest Government Action: May 13, 2016  

Charges: Acting against national security

Sentence: 10 years imprisonment and two years of exile in southern Iran

Biography: Youcef Nadarkhani was born on April 11, 1977 to Muslim parents in Rasht, Iran. Although he was not religious as a child, he converted to Christianity when he was 19, becoming a member of the Only Jesus Church. He is the pastor of a 400-member house church and a member of the evangelical Church of Iran.

Pastor Nadarkhani and his wife were among several Christians whom officials from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence detained in the city of Rasht on May 13, 2016, releasing them the same day. Three other Christians arrested with them (Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie, and Mohammad Reza Omidi) also were released on bail.  However, on July 24, Pastor Nadarkhani again was detained, charged with “acting against national security,” and accused of being a Zionist and evangelizing. He was released the same day on condition that he raise within a week the equivalent of US $33,000 for bail.

In October 2016, Pastor Nadarkhani and his three co-defendants were tried in Rasht. However, the court could not reach a verdict and transferred the case to a court in Tehran. The Revolutionary Court in Tehran held hearings in December 2016 and February and June 2017. During the June 24, 2017 hearing, officials charged them with “acting against national security,” and the presiding Judge Ahmadzadeh reportedly accused their church of annually receiving 500,000 pounds ($650,000) from the British government.  Non-presiding Judge Abolghasem Salavati reportedly burst into the courtroom and disrupted the proceeding, proclaiming that Christians “make foolish claims.” On July 6, 2017, the four Christians received a verdict backdated to June 24.  Each was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was allowed twenty days to appeal. Nadarkhani received an additional sentence of two years in exile in Nikshahr in southern Iran.  As of August 15, 2017, Nadarkhani has yet to report to prison and the status of the appeal is uncertain. 

Iranian authorities previously targeted Pastor Nadarkhani on numerous occasions. His first imprisonment took place in December 2006 when he was charged with “apostasy” and “evangelism,” but was released two weeks later.  On October 13, 2009, while applying to register his church, he was arrested after protesting a government policy that required all students, including his two young sons, to study the Quran in school. After appearing before an intelligence ministry tribunal, he was charged with “protesting,” and sent to Lakan Prison where authorities reportedly used medication in a failed attempt to convert him “back” to Islam.

The tribunal amended the charges against Pastor Nadarkhani to “apostasy” and “evangelism.” On September 22, 2010, he verbally was issued a death sentence for apostasy, although he maintained that he had not observed any religion before his conversion. On November 13, 2010, officials of the Revolutionary Tribunal delivered the written verdict from the September trial: execution by hanging.  The pastor and his attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, appealed the sentence, arguing that apostasy was not a codified crime in the Penal Code and reiterating that Nadarkhani had not practiced any religion before converting. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court in Rasht to further investigate whether Pastor Nadarkhani had practiced Islam as a legal adult, in order to address any procedural flaws.

The Court found in September 2011 that Pastor Nadarkhani had committed apostasy because he was born to Muslim parents and left Islam after the legal age of majority. Following this decision, international pressure, including by USCIRF, began to build in support of Pastor Nadarkhani. Advocacy and human rights groups believe his execution order was issued in February 2012.

On September 8, 2012, amid continuing international outcry, Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy in a retrial and the court rescinded the death penalty, allowing him to leave prison. While the court found him guilty of “evangelizing Muslims,” it credited him with the prison time he had already served and released him on bail for the remaining month.  On December 25, 2012, the director of Lakan Prison ordered Nadarkhani rearrested and returned to jail, claiming that he had not served his full sentence. Nadarkhani finally was released on January 7, 2013.


USCIRF Advocate 

Commissioner Jackie Wolcott

Commissioner Advocacy


Related Reports and Briefs


News Room

Press Release: Rouhani: Two Years Later (August 3, 2015)
Press Release: Iran: Deteriorating Conditions for Religious Freedom (March 18, 2015)
Op-Ed: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs – Iran v. Its People: Abuses Against Religious Minorities (June 20, 2013)
Op-Ed: Georgetown Journal of International AffairsThey are Not Alone:  Supporting Prisoners of Conscience (January 14, 2013)
Op-Ed: Washington Times – No Human Rights without Religious Freedom by Katrina Lantos Swett and M. Zuhdi Jasser (September 27, 2012)
Op-Ed: The Hill -- A voice for Iran's freedom (June 22, 2011)

Other Resources