An Iranian appeals court has refused to reduce jailed American minister Saeed Abedini's eight-year prison sentence as his supporters criticized the Obama administration for not actively seeking his release.
"While the news is devastating for Saeed's family in Iran and his wife and children here in the U.S., it is not totally unexpected when you are dealing with an Iranian judiciary that has no respect for human rights," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which represents Abedini, told Newsmax.
Abedini was sentenced to eight years in the country's most brutal Evin prison on charges of endangering national security, but his supporters say he was in Iran working to build an orphanage with permission of the Iranian government.
Sekulow said supporters of Abedini will continue to apply pressure on the Obama administration, which has remained largely silent on Abedini's case.
"Secretary Kerry has not spoken out -- besides issuing a statement. President Obama has not spoken out about him. While we understand that it is difficult to deal with Iran, we are having to spend a lot of energy to push the State Department to do what we cannot do," Sekulow says. "Ultimately a phone call from a top-level official in the U.S. to another-top level official will get more done."
Upon learning the decision of the Iranian court, Saeed's wife Naghmeh said it is "imperative in the coming days, weeks, and months that we remain vigilant to call for Pastor Saeed's release. This includes continuing to put pressure on Iran from the U.S. government and governments around the world."
In mid-March, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing placing the spotlight on Abedini's plight, but the State Department declined to send a representative, says Sekulow.
More than a week later, on March 22, the State Department responded with a two-paragraph statement from Secretary of State John Kerry saying the "best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released." The administration has not commented further.
Sekulow says Abedini's legal advocates in Iran are fully exploring all options, which includes making a further appeal to Iran's Supreme Court and then to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The initial written appeal was made shortly after the January 27 verdict.
Abedini was beaten in prison to a point and he is suffering from internal bleeding. Sekulow said that he has been seen by doctors, but because he is a Christian the medical staff views him as "unclean" and he is often refused pain medication.
Following a brief meeting with Abedini earlier this month, his family in Iran said that his pain was increasing to the point that on one occasion he fainted from the immense anguish.
With his failing health, the ACLJ is planning to step up its campaign
to gain his release.
To mark the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment, the ACLJ is launching a website, SaveSaeed.org
, that Sekulow says will be more user-friendly and international in its scope. The website launch will correspond with planned vigils in every state capitol around the country.
Supporters of Abedini's cause
include Samaritan's Purse, the evangelical humanitarian organization led by Franklin Graham, a bipartisan group of congressional members, and even representatives from Canada and Australia.
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