Iranian-born American Pastor Saeed Abedini has been sentenced to eight years of prison in Iran and is reportedly being tortured in prison as an appeal against his 8-year sentence is being filed.
"When I heard this from my husband, I cried. It broke my heart. Behind those walls he feels helpless and relies on us to be his voice. It is so easy to feel forgotten in the walls of the prison. Please help me make sure he is never forgotten," Pastor Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, told the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) after visiting her husband on Monday.
Abedini, 32, was arrested in September of last year during one of his many visits to his place of birth while working on an orphanage, and has been imprisoned ever since. On January 27th, Iran’s “hanging judge” Judge Pir-Abassi sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison for “threatening the national security of Iran” because of his activity starting in 2000 in the Christian house church movement.
Dr. Naser Sarbazi, Abedini’s lawyer in Iran, was only allowed to see the court filing one week before the trial, and was given less than 24 hours to meet with the 32-year-old pastor and prepare a defense, the ACLJ noted. Sarbazi still managed to present a strong case for why Abedini’s work was not a threat to the national security of Iran, and positioned that the American was motivated solely by his faith and was without a political agenda, stated the law group.
After two days of what was described as a “sham” trial, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran deemed the American pastor guilty of attempting to undermine the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches. The alleged evidence of the pastor’s activities dates back to 2000, when he converted from Islam to Christianity. Prosecutors are saying that Abedini has been trying to influence Islamic youths to convert to Christianity, which is a crime punishable by death in Iran.
The sentence was delivered by Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26, a notorious "hanging judge" accused by the European Union of human right abuses for hastily sentencing a number of human rights advocates to death. Sarbazi has filed an appeal against the sentence.
After the trial, Judge Pir-Abassi apparently told Sarbazi that he would see to the pastor being moved from his current ward to another ward, where he would receive better medical treatment, according to Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ; however, Abedini is being tortured in the prison while he waits for the appeal process, according to the latest statement by ACLJ. The law group is currently representing Abedini’s two children and wife, Naghmeh Abedini, who he married after converting to Christianity in 2000.
Upon finding out the sentence results, Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, appealed to the public for help.
"My first emotion went to my kids. I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, and she will be a teenager the next time she sees her dad and that was pretty devastating and what do I tell them? My daughters heard me say eight years and she said 'what's eight years?' They've been praying every night, and every day they ask is Daddy coming home today? And I didn't want to take that hope away from them and with all the help and support he will come home soon."
"The trial and conviction of Pastor Abedini represent an outrageous miscarriage of justice and yet one more damning piece of evidence pointing to the rampant denial of religious freedom and the absence of any semblance of rule of law in Iran," said Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
John Kerry, the new U.S. Secretary of State, and several other U.S. agencies have condemned Iran for its imprisonment and unjust trial of Abedini and called for his release.
"We remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini's trial," Kerry told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) when asked for his response to Abedini's case last week. "I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him."
Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland commented, "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."
Calls continue to the U.S. State Department to look into the case and demand for the immediate release of Pastor Abedini. The ACLJ is urging the public to sign a petition that it started in support of his release. Over 250,000 people from around the world have signed the petition. The law group that is representing Abedini’s family in the U.S. said that Abedini has 20 days to appeal the sentence.