We have reported in the past on the U.S. State Department’s willful silence about imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been held in Iran since last September for “evangelizing” and therefore “threatening national security.” The American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow has been unrelenting in his promotion of Abedini’s cause.
On March 20, members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, condemning the “virtual silence from the U.S. government” and referring to the State Department’s approach as “woefully inadequate, especially that the life of an American citizen hangs in the balance.” The State Department, which had previously all but ignored the American citizen’s situation, was given a Friday deadline by Congress’s Human Rights Commission for issuing a statement regarding the release of Pastor Abedini.
In response, finally, on March 21, the State Department released a short statement from Kerry:
I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.
I am also troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case and Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran. I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released.
I find the language to be vague and passive, but as Sekulow wrote on facebook, this ought to be considered a “victory for Pastor Saeed and demonstrates your voice is being heard.”
Saeed was able to transmit a letter to his wife, which was received on March 21, written in the margins of newspaper scraps. The letter details the psychological and physical torture he has been enduring, as well as lack of any medical attention until this week. I was struck above all by his description of his forgiveness of his interrogators and torturers, including this incident:
….Surely you have someone in your family, city, work or environment that have become like poisonous snake who have bitten you and tried to make you poisonous. So, forgive them and use the antidote of love and be Victorious!
One of the chances of forgiveness came when I was blindfolded and a guard was holding my hand guiding me. He asked “what are you here for? What is your crime?” I said “I am Christian Pastor.” All of the sudden he let go of my hand and said “so you are unclean! I will tell others not to defile themselves by touching you!” He would tell others not to get close to me. It really broke my heart. The nurse would also come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others “in our religion we are not suppose to touch you, you are unclean. Baha’i (religion) and Christians are unclean!” She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had. According to the doctor’s instructions, they would not give me the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because I was unclean.
I could not fall sleep one night due to the pain when all of a sudden I could hear the sound of dirty sewer rats with their loud noises and screeches. It was around 4 in the morning. It sounded like laughter in a way.
Even though many would call me unclean and filthy and would not even want to pass by me and they had abandoned me and they were disgusted to touch me because they were afraid that they would also become unclean, but I knew that in the eyes of Jesus Christ, and in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, I am like the sewer rat, beautiful and loveable – not disgusting and unclean – and like the rats I can scream with joy within those prison walls and worship my Lord in joy and strength.
The Joy of the Lord is my strength. Amen.