According to the Christian Post, the U.S. State Department and the White House issued strong statements calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen facing a possible death sentence for his faith.
During the daily news briefing on Friday, Jan. 25, Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, said, "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." She went on to say, "And we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and the transparency of his trial. We are in close contact with his family as well, and we're actively engaged in the case."
In another briefing with reporters, White House spokesman, Jay Carney, also spoke about Pastor Saeed's case: "We remain concerned about Saeed Abedini… Mr. Abedini was not allowed to attend his own trial, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of that trial." Carney echoed the sentiment of the State Department and responded to reporters by saying, "We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of the freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini."
Despite the Pastor Saeed’s being transferred to another prison in Tehran, the strong statements by the White House and the State Department have brought some hope. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini's family in the U.S, commented, "We applaud both the State Department and the White House for these very strong statements. It is vitally important that the U.S. government do all that it can to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen."
Sekulow mentioned that the response from the White House and the State Department came after more than 235,000 petition signatures, dozens of ACLJ media appearances, tireless efforts from Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor’s wife, and letters signed by 49 U.S. Senators and Representatives.
The Christian Post reports that when Pastor Abedini appeared in the courtroom on the first day of his trial on Monday, prosecutors alleged he has a politically subversive influence on young people and, therefore, poses a threat to the national security. The pastor and his attorney were barred from the court during a hearing on Tuesday, when lay church leaders were reportedly forced to testify against Abedini.
A verdict for the trial can be expected next week. If convicted of converting Muslim youth, the pastor can receive a lengthy jail sentence or even the death penalty.
Abedini – who grew up in Iran before converting to Christianity at the age of 20 – traveled with his family back and forth between Iran and the U.S. several times in the past few years to meet his family and for Christian work. During one such trip in 2009, he was detained by Iranian officials and interrogated for his conversion. While he was released with a warning against engaging in any more underground church activities, he was once again arrested last July while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.
In a similar case, Youcef Nadarkhani, thirty-five-year-old Christian pastor, was released unexpectedly after being held in prison for almost three years. Nadarkhani was also represented by the American Center for Law and Justice,
Although born to Muslim parents, Nadarkhani converted to Christianity by the age of 19. When he refused to renounce his Christian faith, he was charged with apostasy.
The ACLJ worked with the State Department in efforts to win Nadarkhani’s freedom, and earlier in 2012 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning his imprisonment and calling for his immediate release. In addition, nearly three million Twitter users voiced their support for Nadarkhani through the "Tweet for Youcef" campaign.
Click here to learn more about Pastor Nadarkhani’s release which may provide some hope for Pastor Abedini and those who believe in the power of prayer.