KARAJ, Iran — A legal organization that has been fighting for the release of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran says that the pastor is now facing new danger over the recent U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) outlined in an update on Thursday that after word of the agreement reached the ears of those incarcerated in Rajai Shahr Prison, it reignited Iranian animosity toward the United States.
“Pastor Saeed revealed that since the deal was announced yesterday, many in the prison are expressing anti-American sentiments,” wrote ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “Tensions are high inside the prison and he told the family member during today’s visit that not only does he feel threatened, but believes he is now a target because he is an American citizen.”
As previously reported, Saeed 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, but was transferred to to Rajai Shahr Prison in 2013, which was believed to pose an even greater threat to Abedini’s health and safety. He has reportedly experienced numerous brutal beatings behind bars from both the prison guards and his fellow cell mates.
Along with the ACLJ, Abedini’s wife has been urging the American government to push for his release, speaking before Congressional committees and meeting with Barack Obama and other members of his administration. She says that while she understood from talks with the State Department that the Iran deal was not going to include negotiations surrounding her husband, she still wants to press the nation’s leaders for Abedini’s release.
“I’ve never wanted my husband to be part of having to give up something, our government and the rest of the world, for their release. And I didn’t want that to be used as part of the deal,” she told CNN on Wednesday, but also noted, “I think the nuclear deal has made [securing his release] more difficult.”
“I had a call with State [Department officials] and they are working on it,” Abedini continued. “They couldn’t promise me a timeline. They couldn’t promise me his release has been secured, but that they are working on it—that it is a top priority.”
Abedini was speaking in regard to an explanation that Barack Obama provided on Wednesday in response to allegations that the U.S. government is complacent about the release of Abedini and other jailed Americans in Iran since they were not included in the deal.
“The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails … that’s nonsense, and you should know better,” he said. “Nobody is content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.”
“Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, ‘You know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals,'” Obama explained.
Abedini himself has also penned a letter surrounding the Iranian agreement and is encouraging his supporters to continue praying.
“I know that so many of you have felt that I have been left behind after a deal was reached with Iran and I am still not home,” he wrote. “I want you to know that as I wrote the thank you letter to President Obama after he had visited my family in January of this year (which he read at the National Prayer Breakfast), that God is in control of all countries and leadership in the world when the body of Christ comes together in united prayer.”
“We are all looking for a safer, more friendly world, and because of this desire, many of us are happy and others un-happy about the deal,”Abedini continued. “Please join me in using these emotions that have been awakened to give fervor to united prayer for God’s chosen people, America, and for the whole world.”