Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Abedini, has said her husband is being treated like a "pawn in a game of chess" after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the pastor will not be freed unless the United States releases 19 Iranian prisoners.
"My husband is not collateral. He is a father and a man who broke no law. Yet Iran is treating him like a pawn in a game of chess. President Rouhani's demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostage during the Iranian revolution," Naghmeh Abedini told Fox News in a recent interview.
"The environment is ripe for Iran to demonstrate it is ready to re-enter the global market and international scene of diplomats; it is time to show its good will, to change its image from one of a pariah to a member of the global society who will protect fundamental rights," she added.
Naghmeh's comments were made after Rouhani was asked about freeing the American pastor during an interview with CNN on Sunday.
Through an interpreter, Rouhani charged that the only way Pastor Saeed and other imprisoned Americans are going to be released is if the U.S. government agrees to free the imprisoned Iranians.
"If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set [a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned] free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani said.
"If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps," he added.
As reported by the Gospel Herald, Pastor Saeed was first arrested in 2009 while developing home church communities for Christian converts, who are forbidden from gathering in Iran's public churches.
He was later released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches but arrested again in 2012 after he assisted in the building of a secular orphanage. He was held without charges until January 2013, when he received his eight-year sentence.
For the past three years, Pastor Saeed has suffered in Iran's notorious Rajai Shahr prison on charges of undermining national security. There are now concerns that his sentence will be extended, as he was recently threatened with additional charges.
On Monday, the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Naghmeh and the couple's two children in the U.S., slammed Rouhani's demands and urged supporters to sign a petition asking the U.S. government to pressure Iran to release Pastor Saeed.
"This is an absurd and insulting demand, treating Pastor Saeed - who has committed no crime and is merely imprisoned because of his Christian faith - as a hostage for ransom," the group wrote.
"Over 1 million have signed our petition for Pastor Saeed's freedom. Please continue building on this momentum as we aggressively fight for his freedom by adding your name today."