Washington, D.C. – A Congressional hearing that is set for this week will include testimony on an American pastor that is serving a sentence of eight years in a notoriously brutal Iranian prison.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress has scheduled a hearing on Friday on the subject of “The Worsening Plight of Religious Minorities in Iran.” The hearing will not only discuss religious persecution in general, but will also center in on the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who states that he is being tortured in prison and is enduring “physical violence” and other “horrific pressures” behind bars.
“[It is] so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky,” Abedini recently wrote in a letter to his family.
As previously reported, the 32-year-old, who resides in Idaho with his wife and two children, 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 his charity work of building an orphanage. 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 young sons, 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.
“Since the beginning of 2012, there has been an increase in the arrest, imprisonment and killing of religious and cultural minorities in Iran – particularly Christians, Baha’is and Sufi Muslims,” the Congressional hearing announcement outlined. “The State Department has designated Iran as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) every year since 1999 while members of minority communities continue to flee Iran in significant numbers for fear of persecution, unjust detention and even death.”
Hearing organizers also noted that “[a]ccording to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), ‘more than 500 Baha’is have been arbitrarily arrested since 2005,’ while since June 2010 alone, ‘approximately 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained.’”
According to reports, the hearing will consist of three panels: a discussion on the State Department, a general talk on the state of religious freedom in Iran, and a panel involving testimony regarding specific cases pertaining to religious persecution. Abedini’s wife Negmeh and Jay Sekulow of ACLJ are scheduled to testify as part of the third panel.
“It has been 9 months since Saeed kissed the little foreheads of our children as he said his goodbyes early in the morning of June 22, 2012,” Negmeh wrote in a recent letter about her husband’s plight. “It should grip all human beings at our heart’s core, motivating us to do what is right, to stand up for someone whose human rights are being violated. While Saeed doesn’t have a voice to sing to his children, we each have a voice for his freedom; we can make a difference.”