TEHRAN — An appeals court in Iran has rejected an appeal on behalf of an American pastor incarcerated in one of the most notorious prisons in the country, and has refused to reduce his sentence despite growing international pressure.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been fighting for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who fled Iran in 2005 and moved to Idaho with his wife Naghmeh and two children, reports that they have learned that the decision was handed down on Sunday by a two-judge panel in Tehran. It notes that one of the judges, Ahmad Zargar, had been sanctioned by the European Union for punishing peaceful protesters in the nation with long-term jail sentences, and in some cases, death sentences.
As previously reported, Abedini was arrested last year for allegedly threatening the national security of Iran by planting house churches a decade ago, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. He had traveled to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents last fall, and was about to return to the states when he was taken into custody. Abedini was then sentenced to eight years in Iran’s Evin Prison, where he has served time for nearly one year.
“While we remained hopeful that Iran would use its own appeal process to finally show respect for Pastor Saeed’s basic human rights, again Iran has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights,” commented Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ. “We are exploring all options with Pastor Saeed’s family, including options in this country and abroad to bring more pressure on Iran from the U.S. and other countries around the world. The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran’s continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression.”
As Abedini has been suffering with internal injuries while behind bars, Sekulow says that the news increases concern over the pastor’s well-being.
“By keeping the eight-year prison sentence in place, Pastor Saeed, now potentially faces additional beatings and abuse inside Evin Prison – treatment that has significantly weakened him during his first year in prison,” he noted.
Abedini’s wife Naghmeh also expressed disappointment over the ruling.
“The news out of Iran is devastating to our family,” she stated. “In the coming days our family will be consulting with legal counsel in Iran to determine the next course of action. The family could appeal the case to the Supreme Court in Tehran or plead for the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to intervene and pardon Pastor Saeed.”
“From past cases, we know that the decision to release my husband lies solely at the mercy of the Supreme Leader,” she continued. “It is imperative in the coming days, weeks, and months that we remain vigilant to call for Pastor Saeed’s release. This includes continuing to put pressure on Iran from the U.S. government and governments around the world.”
Naghmeh also commented that she is saddened that the American government has been silent while her husband suffers for his faith.
“My husband is serving eight years in the notorious Evin prison and facing daily threats and abuse by radicals because he refuses to deny his Christian faith. And yet, my President, President Obama, has not spoken a word about him,” she lamented. “I am extremely disappointed that President Obama has chosen to remain silent on this critical human and religious rights case of an American imprisoned in Iran.”
The ACLJ says that nearly 620,000 people have demanded Abedini’s release through SaveSaeed.org