Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, an American imprisoned in Iran on charges of evangelizing, was sentenced Sunday, Jan. 27, to eight years in prison, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing the pastor's family in the United States.
Abedini, who is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho, was verbally sentenced in Tehran by Judge Pir-Abassi, known as the "hanging judge," to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches. He will serve the time in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, known as one of the most brutal.
The court defied Iranian law, which requires a written verdict. The sentencing was based on the evidence of Pastor Saeed's Christian activities primarily during the early 2000s, when house churches were not perceived as a threat under President Khatami.
Although the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement Sunday that the administration is "deeply disappointed that Saeed Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge related to his religious beliefs.
"We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini." Meehan added that the State Department remains in close contact with Abedini.
Last Friday, the U.S. State Department and the White House condemned the imprisonment of Saeed, calling on Iran to release him."We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and to release him," Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said during the daily news briefing at the State Department.
According to the Christian Post, Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's Executive Director, called the conviction "a real travesty." Iran, he said, "has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights." An American citizen, who has been beaten and tortured since his imprisonment last fall, faces a lengthy prison term simply because of his Christian faith, he added. "Pastor Saeed now faces eight years in a harsh prison – likely facing life-threatening torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime."
The citizens of the world must rise up in protest, Sekulow said. "We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed. As his wife has pleaded, starting with our own government, every effort must be pursued. We are calling on the State Department and the White House, which have both called for Pastor Saeed's release, to engage further.
"We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil," Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, urged.
Click here to read a related article on Pastor Saeed.