An Iranian-born American pastor, who has dual citizenship in both the United States and Iran, has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison for planting Christian house churches in the predominantly Muslim country.
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.
This morning, Judge Pir-Abassi, known as “the hanging judge,” sentenced Abedini 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.
Abedini, who had been trained in the ways of Islam as a youth, converted to Christianity at age 20 and became active in sharing his faith. Although he knew that living for Christ would be very difficult — and dangerous — in Iran, he continued on anyway.
“When he became a Christian, he became a criminal in his own country. His passion was to reach the people of Iran,” his wife Naghmeh said. “He comes from a very close-knit family, and he loved evangelizing and passing out Bibles on the streets of Tehran. This was his passion.”
Abedini will serve his eight-year sentence in Evin prison. Reports state that he has already been tortured and beaten since being incarcerated.
“This is a real travesty – a mockery of justice,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been working for Abedini’s release. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.”
The U.S. State Department likewise demanded that Abedini be freed.
“We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini’s human rights and release him,” said spokesperson Darby Holladay. “Mr. Abedini’s attorney had only one day to present his defense, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini’s trial.”
Abedini and his wife have a six-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son, and reside in the state of Idaho.