Washington, D.C. — Dozens of members of Congress have signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, requesting that he become directly involved in seeking the release of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran.
As previously reported, 32-year-old Saeed Abedini of Idaho was taken into custody last September while visiting his homeland of Iran as he had returned to spend time with his parents and to continue building an orphanage in the country. He has taken a number of trips to Iran since moving to America in 2005.
According to his wife, Naghmeh, who remains in the U.S. along with the couple’s two children, Abedini was apprehended just before he was about to board a plane to return to the states. He had taken a brief excursion to another country, and was stopped at the Turkey-Iran border upon his re-entry. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized Abedini’s passport, subjected him to interrogation and placed him on house arrest for several weeks.
On September 26th, officials arrested Abedini at his parents’ house and booked him at the notorious Evin prison, which is known for its brutal conditions. Last month, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly threatening the national security of Iran by planting house churches, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. The charges stem from activities that are approximately a decade old, when Abedini was involved in establishing scores of Christian churches across the country. It is estimated that he had a role in founding approximately 100 house churches, which yielded 2,000 members combined.
“As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights,” stated the letter signed by 80 American Congressman to Secretary Kerry. “We respectfully request that you continue to use every diplomatic avenue possible, in cooperation with our allies and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to secure Mr. Abedini’s unconditional release and personally and publically condemn his arbitrary detention in a statement.”
The letter is stated to be a bi-partisan effort of both the House and Senate, headed by Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, the co-chairman of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, Congressman Henry Waxman of California, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. It comes just days after the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and its European Centre for Law and Justice filed a request with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to call upon Iranian officials to immediately release Saeed.
Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ applauded Congress for its efforts.
“This is a significant bi-partisan effort to secure the freedom of a U.S. citizen who faces incredible torture and life-threatening punishment in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons – simply because of his Christian beliefs,” he stated. “This letter from a politically broad spectrum of members of Congress underscores the real issue here: the U.S. government must protect its citizens and exercise every diplomatic tool available to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed. We are very grateful for this Congressional support and urge Secretary Kerry to act without delay. Pastor Saeed’s life hangs in the balance. Secretary Kerry’s personal involvement in this case is critical to securing the freedom of this American.”
The organization says that Saeed continues to be tortured and abused while imprisoned.