WASHINGTON — A United States congressman has chosen to ‘adopt’ the cause of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran as part of a congressional effort to raise awareness of the plight of those persecuted worldwide for their religious beliefs.
Representative Trent Franks (R-Az.), a Christian, spoke briefly on the House floor last week during “Defending Freedoms Project Action Week” to announce his decision.
“It is my privilege to co-chair the International Religious Freedom Caucus here in Congress, and in that capacity, it is also my privilege to participate in the Defending Freedoms Project, a bi-partisan effort for members of Congress to adopt a prisoner of conscience,” he began. “My office has adopted Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and an American citizen from Idaho, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith.”
“Iran’s tyrannical attempts to–in the words of Ronald Reagan–stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people, have been exposed again to the world after the imprisonment of Pastor Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years in prison while working to build an orphanage in Iran,” Franks continued.
He then called upon the Iranian government to free Abedini and allow him to return to the states.
“Mr. Speaker, Martin Luther King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ And Pastor Abedini’s case is a demonstration to the world of far-reaching implications of even a single instance of human rights abuse,” Franks said. “And I would call again upon Iran to release Pastor Abedini so he could return to Idaho to be with his family.”
As previously reported, 32-year-old Abedini has been incarcerated in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison since last September 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. He had traveled to Iran to build an orphanage last fall, and was about to return to the states when he was taken into custody.
The Defending Freedoms Project, which Franks spoke of, is an effort of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The project website outlines that the awareness campaign was launched by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in conjunction with USCIRF and Amnesty International USA.
“Through the Defending Freedoms Project, members of Congress adopt prisoners of conscience and advocate for their release,” it explains. “Sadly, many people today are not free, but languish in jail cells around the world. They are imprisoned because of who they are, what they believe, and how they have chosen to express their convictions.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has also been working for Abedini’s release, says that in addition to the Congressional effort, the international community is speaking out as well.
“The world is taking notice. In just the last few months, we have seen two more significant actions from world nations demanding that Pastor Saeed be released,” it wrote in a statement on Monday. “Recently, during Canada’s ‘Iran Accountability Week,’ member of Parliament David Sweet spoke before the House of Commons, urging Pastor Saeed’s release. Likewise, Australia formally passed a motion calling for Pastor Saeed’s release last month.”
A number of other Congressmen spoke of their “adopted” prisoner from the House floor last week, including Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who has taken up the cause of Gao Zhisheng of China, and Representative James McGovern (D-Mass.), who is supporting Nabeel Rajab of Bahrain.