WASHINGTON — Barack Obama issued a call on Friday for an American pastor imprisoned in Iran to be released for the Persian New Year, which began yesterday.
As a tradition during the Iranian holiday Nowruz, some prisoners are set free or receive reduced sentences. Obama called upon the Iranian government on Friday to free Pastor Saeed Abedini during the observance, among other Americans who are also being held in the country.
“Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” he said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.”
As previously reported, Abedini, a former Iranian Muslim turned Christian, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and two children to find religious freedom after facing conflict with authorities for planting house churches in the county. In 2012, 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.
Abedini was later charged with threatening the national security of Iran, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. He was then sentenced to eight years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he has spent the past two years behind bars.
In November 2013, Abedini was transported to Rajai Shahr Prison, which was believed to pose an even greater threat to Abedini’s health and safety. Last May, while obtaining treatment at a local hospital for injuries sustained from beatings, he was likewise beaten and returned to prison.
Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, requested a face-to-face meeting with Barack Obama in January as he was scheduled to speak at an area university. She later told reporters that Obama advised her that “getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family.”
Abedini’s son, Jacob, had asked Obama to return his father for his birthday, which was on March 17. While Abedini remains behind bars, he did send a letter to his son, which his mother says caused his eyes to light up.
“He felt like he had a piece of Saeed,” she told reporters.
“[H]appy birthday to my big boy and my hero, Jacob Cyrus Abedini,” the imprisoned pastor wrote. “Thank you for standing strong with me in this battle for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“I might not be there on your birthday and that breaks my heart as your father,” Abedini confessed. “But I know the One who is there on your birthday is there for you and cares for you more than anyone could imagine. He is there with you and His name is ‘I am who I am.'”
Last month, Naghmeh Abedini met with U.S. Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein to discuss ways to secure Abedini’s release. Last week, Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also pleaded on behalf of Abedini before the UN, calling upon Iran to “uphold its religious freedom obligations and release those imprisoned for their religious beliefs, such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, and protect the rights of all individuals to manifest their religious beliefs.”