KARAJ, Iran — An American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran for over three years as part of an eight-year prison sentence has been set free in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran.
“It is confirmed: Saeed is released!” Saeed Abedini’s wife Naghmeh posted on social media this morning.
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, 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 experienced numerous beatings behind bars ever since, and has struggled with severe physical pain and threats that he would not be released until he returns to Islam.
Nonetheless, Abedini has encouraged Christians from behind bars to stand strong for their faith.
“[B]rothers and sisters, the fact of the gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus,” he wrote in a letter in 2014.
“Today, we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the word of life and salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection,” he said. “We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world.”
Abedini’s wife has worked tirelessly for her husband’s release, even meeting personally with Barack Obama last January along with the couple’s two young children.
In September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told reporters during a visit to New York that he would consider setting Abedini free if the U.S. released Iranian citizens who were likewise being held.
“If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps,” he told CNN’s Christianne Amanpour.
Now, according to reports, Iran has released four U.S. prisoners in exchange for seven Iranians being held in America.
“Prosecutor Abbas Jaafari told IRNA that four dual nationality Iranian-American prisoners, passing prison terms in Iran, will be exchanged with seven Iranian nationals languishing at the U.S. jails,” reports the Islamic Republic News Agency. “The settlement included a clause according to which the US will no longer pursue extradition of 14 Iranians for alleged involvement in purchasing arms from the US to Iran.”
Others expected to be released include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and American businessman Siamak Namazi.