WASHINGTON (BP)—Less than two weeks before Christmas, Naghmeh Abedini testified before Congress on behalf of her husband, U.S. citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran since last June because of his Christian faith.
"My husband is suffering because he is a Christian," Abedini said when she addressed a subcommittee hearing of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday (Dec. 12). "He is suffering because he is an American. Yet, his own government ... has abandoned him. Don't we owe it to him as a nation to stand up for his human rights, for his freedom?
"Not all Americans are Christians, but every American—regardless of their belief—needs to be reassured and know that our government will take decisive action to protect us if our fundamental rights are violated," Abedini added.
Although this was Naghmeh Abedini's first time officially to testify before a panel of the House of Representatives, she already has described her husband's plight internationally through news agencies and while addressing the United Nations in Geneva earlier this year. As a special guest at the Missouri Baptist Convention in October, she recalled telling world leaders at the U.N. meeting that "the solution they're all looking for to the world's problems is Jesus Christ."
During the Dec. 12 House hearing, Naghmeh Abedini and attorney Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law Justice (ACLJ), thanked members of Congress for showing nonpartisan interest in her husband's release. Yet they expressed dismay that the U.S. administration had failed to use unprecedented negotiations between the United States and Iran to demand his release.
"At such a critical juncture," Sekulow said, "with the U.S. government sitting literally across the table with Iran ... for the first time in 34 years, we need to be sure that Pastor Saeed and the other Americans mentioned here today, wrongfully detained, are seen not as a marginal issue, but as essential to those ongoing diplomatic talks.
"Pastor Saeed has exhausted all legal remedies in Iran," Sekulow added. "His freedom now rests solely on the success of diplomatic efforts."
Sekulow expressed concern that, during a House hearing two days earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that he had not mentioned Saeed Abedini during nuclear talks with Iranian officials.
According to a transcript released from the ACLJ Dec. 11, Kerry said, "I personally raised the issue with the Foreign Minister Zarif when I met him the very first time, and we have not linked it directly to the nuclear issue because we believe that prejudices them and it also prejudices the negotiation." In response, Sekulow tried, during the Dec. 12 hearing, "to impress upon Congress the desperate need for great urgency, as Pastor Saeed is in a dire predicament."
Abedini, who was arrested last June while working with government approval to establish an orphanage, was sentenced without due process to eight years in the political prisoner ward at Iran's notorious Evin Prison, Sekulow explained. Then, as the U.S. administration pursued diplomatic discussions with Iran in November, he was transferred to the criminal ward of Rajai Shahr Prison.
"This is Rajai Shahr Prison," Sekulow said, "built for 5,000 violent criminals, real criminals -- murderers, rapists, drug dealers, people convicted and sentenced to death or life in prison. Built for 5,000 inmates, it is currently housing approximately 22,000. It is a prison out of control with violence. To define the situation as inhumane would be a gross understatement."
According to recent reports, Abedini has been robbed numerous times, as well as threatened at knifepoint. He is covered in lice and malnourished. Increasingly he suffers from stomach pain because the Iranian government refuses to give him access to needed medication.
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