WASHINGTON — United States Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement this week calling upon the Iranian government to release an imprisoned American pastor, as well as two other American citizens who are believed to be unlawfully held in the country.
As previously reported, Saeed Abedini, who fled Iran in 2005 and moved to Idaho with his wife Naghmeh and two children, 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.
This past week, an Iranian court rejected Abedini’s appeal of his sentence, dealing a devastating blow to both the pastor and his family.
“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 American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to secure Abedini’s release. “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.”
Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, said that she is saddened that Barack Obama has said nothing about her husband’s plight.
“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.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement urging the Iranian government to work with the U.S. to return Abedini to his family, as well as two others believed to be captive in the country–U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and First Agent Robert Levinson, the latter of whom has been missing since 2007.
“On September 26, Mr. Abedini will have spent a year in detention in Iran,” he wrote. “He was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.”
“President Rouhani has shared in his speeches and interviews over the past few months his hope and vision to improve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship with the world. We urge the Iranian Government to release Mr. Hekmati and Mr. Abedini and to help us locate Mr. Levinson so that they may be reunited with their families as safely and as soon as possible,” Kerry continued. “These men belong at home with those who love them and miss them.”
Following the release of the statement, Abedini’s wife Naghmeh said that she was thankful for Kerry’s words, but is still waiting for Barack Obama to acknowledge her husband’s suffering.
“I am very thankful for the statement that Secretary of State John Kerry made to Iran regarding Saeed’s immediate return to our family, and I hope that the State Department is truly willing explore all avenues to secure my husband’s release,” she stated. “While I am pleased with this development, I still expect my president, President Obama, who has remained silent thus far, to speak out on this very critical human rights issue and let the Iranian government and the world know that religious freedom is still a top priority for our government.”
“President Obama must demonstrate that America will not stay silent in the face of religious persecution,” Naghmeh continued, “nor will it let an American citizen waste away in an Iranian prison simply because he chose to follow Jesus.”