U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has condemned the Iran's imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently enduring the second year of a prison sentence in the Islamic republic for practicing his Christian faith.
In a recent tweet, Boehner linked to an article written by ACLJ's Jay Sekulow regarding the plight of Pastor Saeed. "An American Christian, pastor #SaeedAbedini, spent another birthday imprisoned in #Iran http://t.co/zFAZMp5o3G #SaveSaaed @NaghmehAbedini," Boehner wrote.
Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, thanked Boehner for his support in a later post on her Facebook page:
"I am thankful for the support of @SpeakerBoehner of our family during this difficult time," Naghmeh wrote.
Pastor Saeed, who is serving an eight year prison sentence for "threatening the security of the state," was first arrested in 2009 while working as a Christian leader and community organizer in Iran's underground home church communities for Christian converts who are denied the right to worship freely in public churches. Although he was initially released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches in Iran, he was imprisoned again after returning to Iran in 2012 to help build a state-run, secular orphanage. The ACLJ notes that Pastor Saeed remains in an incredibly dangerous situation due to the frequent executions, inmate violence and beatings that take place in Iranian prisons. The pastor has suffered long stints in solitary confinement, and beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates. He was also denied medical attention for his injuries.
In honor of his 35th birthday, which fell on May 7, Pastor Saeed penned a letter from prison telling those who are praying for him that "change starts with us."
"The first step to revival is praying together in unity as a nation," he said.
"The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus. You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the Kingdom of God."
Meanwhile, in the wake of ongoing nuclear talks between U.S. and Iran, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan resolution earlier in May calling on Iran to immediately release Pastor Saeed, two other imprisoned Americans, and to locate another American that went missing in the Mideast country.
The resolution says: "the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release."
Despite earlier promises that Pastor Saeed's freedom is the U.S. government's "top priority," President Obama has warned that any amendment that will demand the release of the pastor and fellow American prisoners will be vetoed.
The senators voted 90-0 in favor of the resolution from Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. Presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio R-Florida; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who is considering a presidential bid, missed the vote, according to The Hill.
"It is only right that the President should ensure Iran frees Pastor Abedini and the other Americans they have held captive for too many years before the United States provides any sanctions relief," Sen. Risch said following the vote.
The senator later tweeted, "We will continue our battle to see them released," Boise State Public Radio reports.