Although she never secured a much-sought audience with Pope Francis during his D.C. visit, the wife of jailed Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini expressed hope she will meet the pontiff and secure his help to free her husband after years of imprisonment in Iran.
“I’m still hopeful the Pope will help,” said Naghmeh Abedini on Thursday, hours after the Pope’s address to a joint session of Congress and two days after learning that her husband “has been tasered, beaten in prison, and intensely interrogated on new charges.”
Nagmeh spoke to me just hours after she sat in the audience as Pope Francis delivered his historic address to Congress. Her presence in the gallery of the House chamber was made possible by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., who has long championed the release of Pastor Abedini and three other Americans imprisoned by the Tehran government in 2012.
To emphasize how critical it was to have the pontiff take up the cause of her husband’s release, Naghmeh mentioned friends Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh. In 2009, she recalled, both were arrested in Tehran for promoting Christianity and sentenced to death for apostasy. (Promoting Christianity technically is not a crime, but promoting change of their religion, which they had, brought a death sentence.)
“When both were unexpectedly released [after 259 days on death row],” Naghmeh told me, “they later told me their captors asked them, ‘How do you know the Pope?’ Apparently, Pope Francis called for their release and as soon as he reached out, they were free!”
Noting that the Vatican was one of the first governments to recognize the present government in Iran shortly after it came to power in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Naghmeh said that her two friends have both implored her to “get the Pope involved to secure the release of my husband.”
With the help of Rep. Pittenger as well as several prominent American Catholics, Boise (Idaho) resident Naghmeh repeatedly sought an audience with the Pope while he was in Washington. The efforts were unsuccessful.
Regarding the Pope’s remarks to lawmakers, the pastor’s wife told me “I was expecting him to address religious freedom and the plight of refugees from Syria and Iraq who are persecuted for their Christian beliefs. But he didn’t.”
She praised President Obama for bringing up persecution of Christians in his speech welcoming Pope Francis to the White House on Wednesday.
Naghmeh, however, was critical of the Iran nuclear deal that Congress will soon vote on because “it doesn’t say anything about human rights or religious liberty. And while the administration said it brought up releasing my husband and the other three Americans in Tehran with the [Iranian nuclear negotiators] on the sidelines, all the reports we have heard said that the Iranians refused any suggestion of a release.”
Naghmeh recalled her only meeting with President Obama, which was in January when he came to Boise. The president “talked to me for a long time, and when our son Jacob was introduced to him, Jacob told President Obama, ‘Mr. President, please bring my Dad home for my birthday on March 17.’”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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