A U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith could face execution if the government is not pressured to release him, warned an international religious freedom advocacy group.
“As more individuals and governments around the world take notice of
Pastor Saeed’s case, the pressure on Iran to release him and stop
violating religious liberty will increase,” said Jordan Sekulow,
executive director of the Washington, D.C. – based American Center for
Law and Justice.
In a Jan. 14 post on the law center’s website, Sekulow explained that
immediate action is essential “as the Iranian regime is clearly bent on
rushing through a sham trial that leaves counsel unprepared and in the
dark about the nature of the charges against their client.”
Pastor Saeed Abedini, 32, is a U.S. citizen who initially invoked the
anger of the Iranian government by helping start house churches after
converting from Islam to Christianity.
However, the two parties arrived at an agreement in 2009 allowing the
pastor to travel freely in the country if he stopped working with the
underground churches. He instead turned his focus toward humanitarian
efforts with non-religious orphanages.
Nevertheless, the pastor was arrested in September during a trip to
work with those orphanages and visit family, the American Center for Law
and Justice said, and he has been imprisoned illegally for more than
Now, Sekulow warned, Abedini is scheduled to go on trial before one of Iran’s most notorious “hanging judges.”
He explained that Abedini’s lawyer was permitted to see the court file
only one week before the Jan. 21 court date. The only charges that the
attorney could decipher dated back to 2000, the year of the pastor’s
conversion to Christianity.
“The supposed charge levied against him, actions against the national
security of Iran, is a typical charged brought by the radical Islamic
regime against those it wishes to persecute for their religious
beliefs,” Sekulow said, adding that the court file “indicated that this
national security charge was directly related to his work starting a
house church movement in Iran.”
In a recent letter, Abedini said that he has been beaten and told that he “will hang” for his “faith in Jesus.”
The American Center for Law and Justice has been working to raise awareness of the pastor’s plight.
The U.S. State Department has expressed “serious concerns” about the plight of Abedini.
During a Jan. 11 press briefing, department spokesperson Victoria
Nuland acknowledged that the pastor was arrested over three months ago
“on charges related to his religious beliefs.”
“We understand that a hearing will be held soon,” she said, “and we
call on Iranian officials to respect Iran’s own laws and provide Mr.
Abedini access to an attorney.”
The American Center for Law and Justice welcomed the statement as a
“great first step” but lamented that the State Department did not go as
far as calling for the pastor’s immediate release.
The group also urged President Obama to speak out against Abedini’s
imprisonment. On Jan. 15, the White House spokesman said he did
currently not have a statement on the situation.
Sekulow and his organization have emphasized that efforts to raise
awareness in the global community are key to keeping the pastor alive.
They credit international pressure fueled by media attention for the
recent release of another Iranian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, who had
spent three years in prison and was sentenced to death for converting to
Now, the law center has launched a petition, signed by more than
100,000 Americans so far, to call for U.S. government intervention on
behalf of Abedini.
Congressional efforts to advocate for the pastor are also underway,
with letters calling for his freedom introduced in both the House and
In addition, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom denounced Abedini’s continued imprisonment.
Commission chair Katrina Lantos Swett called the national security
charges “bogus” and “a typical tactic” by the Iranian government to
suppress religious beliefs it dislikes.
The commission called on the government of Iran “to release Mr. Abedini immediately and unconditionally.”