Yesterday the U.S. State Department for the first time mentioned American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran since September 2012 for speaking out about his Christian views and developing a network of underground churches. While family and friends of the pastor, who had converted to Christianity twelve years ago, have been trying to exert pressure on the U.S. government to demand his release, to this date the U.S. government has failed to do so.
Media attention first focused on Abedini in December when it was announced that the Iranian judge who would try his case was the notorious Judge Pir-Abassi, known as the “hanging judge.” At that time, it was reported that Abedini had been active in bringing Christianity to Iran but after an incident at the Iranian airport in 2009 where he was detained, he signed an agreement stating he would no longer promote Christianity in the country. On his recent trip, he was working to establish an orphanage.
During the January 11 daily State Department press briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked about the fate of another American currently being held in Iran on charges of espionage, and then directed her comments to Pastor Abedini:
QUESTION: Okay. And then can I ask you about something I forgot to ask yesterday when we ran out of time? Do you have anything to say about the former Marine who, I think it’s now 500 days he’s been imprisoned in Iran?
MS. NULAND: Are you talking about Amir Hekmati?
QUESTION: That’s right.
MS. NULAND: Right. We have serious concerns about the fate of two U.S. citizens detained in Iran, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini. Let me start with Mr. Abedini. He was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges related to his religious beliefs. We understand that a hearing will be held soon, and we call on Iranian officials to respect Iran’s own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney.
With regard to Mr. Hekmati, we are deeply concerned about him. As you say, Brad, he has now been detained by Iranian officials for 500 days. We call on Iranian authorities also to permit a visit by officials of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, our protecting power, both to Mr. Abedini and to Mr. Hekmati – Mr. Hekmati hasn’t been allowed visitors for some six months – to check on their welfare.
This was the first time the State Department has spoken about his imprisonment, and while seen as a promising first step, Saeed’s treatment during imprisonment is in severe violation of human rights laws. On January 10, Abedini was able to transmit a letter to his family, an excerpt of which follows:
It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel. This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my family and kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy. These hot and cold days only make you a man of steel for moving forward in expanding His Kingdom.
When for 120 days you sleep in a room with a giant light that is constantly lit, not allowing you to separate day from night, and when you can only see true sunlight for a few minutes a week, that’s when you are becoming His Workmanship and you can be a vessel in bringing His Kingdom in a dark place and you are able to share the Gospel of Peace and Life to the dying world. And this is where you learn you can love your enemies with all of your heart.
While the Council on American Islamic Relations has actively called for “due process” for the Muslim American Hekmati who is imprisoned, they have remained mute on Pastor Abedini’s predicament.
Pastor Abedini’s wife implores those seeking to help her husband to direct their efforts at pressuring Governor Otter of Idaho, which is the state where the Abedinis live. A facebook site “Free Saeed Abedini” has been set up to direct efforts to pressure Iran for his release. It is time for our government to flex its muscle, and for President Obama to show leadership in demanding both Abedini and Hekmati’s human rights be respected in Iran.
So far, Abedini has only warranted an afterthought in a State Department briefing, which is unacceptable.