Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, 33, was been imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran since the summer of 2012. Sentenced under suspicions of undermining national security, Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison in January 2013. A grassroots movement in the United States has been advocating for his release. The Facebook page “Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini” has gathered over 22,000 likes. The issue of Abedini’s unlawful imprisonment has become a hot button issue among American Evangelical’s.
After converting from Islam to Christianity at the age of 20 while living in Iran. Abedini eventually met his future wife Naghmeh, a dual citizen, two years later. Christianity, a legally recognized minority religion in Iran, is treated with much hostility by the Iranian government. Many Iranian Christians are forced to worship secretly, with prayer meetings taking place away from the watchful eyes of Iranian officials. The House Church Movement, of which Abedini and his wife were active members, helped coordinate these secret prayer sessions.
As of July 2013, according to the United Nations, a minimum of 20 Christians were imprisoned by Iran. In November 2013, three Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes after they were caught drinking wine during a secret communion. The UN report stated that “violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.”
Naghmeh Abedini has testified before Congress on the harsh treatment her husband has been receiving. He is currently imprisoned at the Rajai Shahr prison which has a reputation as Iran’s deadliest prison. Several government officials signed a bipartisan letter to President Obama, asking for immediate presidential action regarding Pastor Saeed.
With the upcoming Geneva conference set to take place soon between Iran and the P5+1, many American’s want the release of Pastor Saeed as a precondition for future agreements. Sadly, it has been decided by Obama officials that the plight of Pastor Saeed, an American citizen, will not be brought up during discussions with Iran. Naghmeh told CNN this week that “It’s very painful. My kids are crying this morning, saying, ‘God, don’t let Daddy die. Bring him home.’”
Israel has been noticeably been left out of talks between western countries and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week at a Likud faction meeting: “I spoke last night with President Obama. We agreed that in the coming days an Israeli team led by the national security advisor, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran.” Netanyahu further stated that the end goal of the accord should be “the dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear capability.”
Israel can sympathize greatly with the plight of Pastor Saeed. One of its own, Jonathan Pollard, has been incarcerated in the United States for the past 28 years. Sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel on the United States, Pollard has received the harshest punishment of any individual charged with his same crimes. World leaders have argued his case for years, saying that the punishment does not fit the crime.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, called out the Iranian regime: “By continuing to hold American Pastor Saeed Abedeini in prison for than a year simply because of his Christian faith, Iran continues to show its blatant disregard for religious freedom and human rights.”