Tags: Pastor | Saeed | Abedini | Iran

Supporters of Imprisoned US Minister Urge Obama to Press Iran for Release

Saturday, 24 Aug 2013 03:16 PM

By Andrea Billups

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Supporters of jailed American minister Saeed Abedini — who has been tortured and held captive in Iran for close to a year — say it is time for the Obama administration to step up pressure in securing his release.

Although the White House and the State Department have issued statements condemning Abedini's treatment, supporters of the Christian pastor — which includes the Rev. Franklin Graham — are demanding the administration be proactive in securing his release, fearing he cannot survive much longer.

More than 272,000 people have signed an online petition urging Obama and the State Department to get involved and get him out.

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Abedini's health has deteriorated rapidly and the minister, just 33, remains in constant pain from internal bleeding after months of beatings and weeks of solitary confinement that have continued since he was imprisoned in September 2012.

"I'm thankful that Secretary of State John Kerry finally called for Pastor Saeed’s release six months after his arrest. Sadly, since then our government appears to have done little to pressure Iran to release a fellow American citizen," Graham wrote to his supporters earlier this month.

Kerry's statement was issued in January, but since then the U.S. government has said little else publicly about Abedini's case, which has been appealed within the Iranian judicial system.

Abedini was sentenced to eight years in the country's most brutal Evin prison on charges of endangering national security.

Graham, whose organization Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, have sought to raise awareness about the American pastor's condition, noted that Saeed, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was in Iran working to build an orphanage with permission of the Iranian government. His arrest came on his ninth humanitarian trip.

"His humanitarian mission led to an arrest on bogus charges and nearly a year of inhumane treatment simply because he loves Jesus Christ," Graham said. "Many in the international community are expressing outrage over this blatant example of religious intolerance. I ask that our government do the same and demand that Pastor Saeed Abedini be released and allowed to return home to his wife and family in the United States."

Abedini and his family are represented in the U.S. by attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington. The ACLJ calls Abedini "the face of Christian persecution in Iran," but notes that he is not alone as the government continues a crackdown of Christian believers there.

The ACLJ has created a website, SaveSaeed.org, and encouraged a letter-writing campaign for Abedini. More than 50,000 letters have been sent to him in prison, Sekulow told Newsmax, letting Abedini know that despite what his captors might tell him, he has not been forgotten at home as many are working to seek his freedom.

The letters are being sent to Evin prison at 1,000 each week, where they must be opened and read, putting the Iranian government on notice that Abedini's case was not going away.

"His spirit has stayed pretty strong. The regime and those interrogating him with Revolutionary Guard, when they turn attention to him, they try to tell him that no one cares about him anymore, that his wife has written him off and no one is left to save him — even as his family has told him otherwise," Sekulow said.

"That and along with his faith, has kept him mentally strong. Anyone who has worked in this field knows mental strength is a big part of keeping someone alive. If they stay strong, the body reacts," he said.

But the mental torture has continued as Abedini has been threatened with a move to another remote prison, far from family and the chance for anyone to check on his condition.

"We are always prepared for anything," Sekulow said, noting a release could also come without notice. "You have to stay optimistic and stay strong and know that the reality is that this is Iran. You cannot predict it."

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On Sept. 26, the one-year anniversary of Abedini's imprisonment, prayer vigils are set to be held on the steps of every state capitol around the country, organized independently by Christian followers of Abedini's plight.

Those vigils will also occur at international sites around the world as word of Abedini's case has become a global cause of concern among Christians who decry Iran's long history of silencing Christians within its borders.

The international diplomatic corps remains aware of the situation, although working through such channels takes time, Sekulow said, noting that even the European Union had called for Abedini's release.

Other countries have also spoken out. In Canada, David Sweet, a member of Parliament, urged for Abedini to be let go as he spoke before the House of Commons. Australia passed a formal motion in June urging Iran to grant Abedini his freedom.

Abedini's wife Naghmeh — also a U.S. citizen, living in Idaho with their two children — has been active in drawing attention to his case. She has addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council five times, including most recently in Geneva in May.

"My husband is in jail simply because he loves Jesus Christ," Naghmeh Abedini told the council. "He was arrested as he worked on an orphanage we are building on property we own and for which we had received all the proper permits. He was also gathering peacefully with other fellow Christians in their private homes, expressing his faith."

Sekulow said after Naghmeh's most recent speech, she met with Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, who tweeted a photo of support after their meeting.

Concerns are growing more dire after Abedini's Iranian family visited him in prison and heard that his pain from internal bleeding has grown worse, causing him to faint, and with little intervention to fix his medical problem, other than occasional pain medication.

Naghmeh Abedini posted a message on social media sites, including Facebook, thanking supporters but noting her husband's health was a concern.

"Today Saeed's family was able to visit him at the prison. He is taking the medication that he was given to treat his pain and bleeding, but he's still suffering from intense pains that have caused him to faint. Please continue to pray for his health," she wrote.

"We are also waiting for answers on the appeal we filed in February regarding his 8-year sentence. We would appreciate your continued prayers for his release and that our Lord Jesus Christ would continue to be glorified through it all. That the Lord would continue to give Saeed and I open doors for the Gospel."

Sekulow says that members of Congress have been supportive of Abedini's cause. In July, Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, who has been actively involved in the case, took to the House floor to speak on the pastor's behalf.

Franks and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have "adopted" Abedini and others as a part of the Defending Freedoms project, which shines a light on prisoners of conscience.

"Pastor Abedini's case is a demonstration to the world of the far-reaching implications of even a single instance of human rights abuse," Franks said. "Iran's tyrannical attempts to, in the words of Ronald Reagan, 'stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people,' have been exposed to the people of the world after the imprisonment of Pastor Abedini."

Sekulow says it is crucial for Obama himself to step up the pressure as Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, works to chart a course for the nation amid nuclear concerns, sanctions, and pressure by world powers to improve Iran's record on human rights.

Releasing Abedini, adds Sekulow, offers Rouhani an opportunity to make good on reforms with the U.S. and to show support for a more moderate relationship moving forward.

Ultimately, however, the country's supreme leader, the Ayatollah, must be moved to release Abedini, Sekulow said.

"That's why this new president, who was given approval to run by the Ayatollah, has the possibility to play a key role," Sekulow said. "For Iran, it does give them a new opportunity to reset some of the relations, especially when you are dealing with another county's citizen."

"Although the Iranian regime has a horrendous human rights record, because he is an American citizen, we believe it's one of the reasons he's still alive today — because he's American," Sekulow said.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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