WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a resolution calling for the release of an American pastor that has been imprisoned in Iran, as well as all others “detained on account of their religious beliefs.”
The resolution, which acts as a statement and does not hold any legislative power, was passed without opposition on Thursday.
“Resolved, that the Senate—(1) recognizes that freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and a fundamental freedom of every individual, regardless of race, sex, country, creed, or nationality, and should never be arbitrarily abridged by any government; (2) recognizes that governments have a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens; and (3) calls on the Government of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini and all other individuals detained on account of their religious beliefs,” it reads.
The resolution was introduced by Senator James Risch of Idaho and co-sponsored by 11 others, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. A similar resolution is pending in the House and is expected to go up for a vote in the near future.
As previously reported, Pastor Saeed Abedini of Idaho, a former Muslim, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and children to find religious freedom. Last fall, he traveled back to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents—and was about to return to the states—when he was taken into custody.
According to reports, he was arrested for allegedly threatening the national security of Iran, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. Abedini was then sentenced to eight years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he has spent the past year. He has struggled with internal injuries following alleged beatings behind bars, and has asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to set him free.
Earlier this month, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been fighting for Abedini’s freedom, reported that the pastor had been transported to a facility that poses an even greater threat to his health and life.
“The ACLJ has confirmed through Pastor Saeed’s family members in Iran that he has been moved from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj—an even more dangerous prison where he faces life-threatening conditions and treatment,” Executive Director Jordan Sekulow wrote on the organization’s website.
Sekulow says that the passing of the resolution by Congress is “critical.”
“In light of his recent transfer to Rajai Shahr Prison—an extremely deadly prison where prisoner on prisoner violence leads to the murder of many inmates—it is more critical now than ever to voice our support for Pastor Saeed,” he stated. “The U.S. government must not let this U.S. citizen be forgotten. Iranian authorities may have sent him away to disappear, but we will not be silent.”
In the meantime, the organization is asking supporters to sign a petition to Barack Obama to work harder to help secure the release of Pastor Abedini. Obama had spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about his concerns in September, but no new developments have been reported.