Among four Americans released today from prison in Iran is Pastor Saeed Abedini, a formerly devout Muslim who was saved by Jesus Christ in his Tehran bedroom more than a decade ago and converted to Christianity. After establishing numerous Christian house churches, he eventually moved to the United States with his wife, Naghmeh, to Boise, Idaho.
The pastor's release was arranged as part of a prisoner swap involving seven Iranians held by the United States on sanctions charges, officials confirmed. The deal comes after more than a year of secret negotiations, officials said.
The three other Americans released are Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosrawi, whose charges are unknown.
Faith leaders have scheduled a news conference at 2 p.m EST Saturday in Washington, D.C., to discuss Abedini's release and continued efforts to fight for religious freedom around the world. The conference will be held directly behind the Supreme Court.
After becoming a U.S. citizen, Abedini returned to Iran with the government's permission to build a state-run, secular orphanage. He was initially detained in late July 2012 while visiting family in Tehran.
On Sept. 26, 2012, members of the Revolutionary Guard raided his parents' home and took Abedini to an unknown location. Four days later, his family was informed that he was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison. He had been imprisoned in Iran until his release today.
He reportedly was kept due to his faith and unwillingness to denounce it, which was reportedly perceived as an attempt to undermine the Iranian government. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
"We have confirmed that Pastor Saeed Abedini is in the Swiss Embassy in Tehran along with three other Americans. They will be making their way home in the next few days," Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse announced Saturday.
"This is an answer to prayer, and we praise the Lord for how He has worked. I know the family would appreciate your continued prayers in the days ahead."
The American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based group dedicated to protecting religious and constitutional freedoms, reported Abedini, 35, has endured torture during his imprisonment and was beaten by fellow prisoners in June. He suffered injuries to his face during that incident, the center reported.
"You have joined me in praying for the release of Pastor Saeed, and for the comfort of his wife and his two small children for the past three years. God heard all of our prayers and answered them in His time today!" blogged Bristol Palin Saturday.
"Let's keep praying for the Abedini family as they heal from all that they have endured since Saeed's imprisonment. I can't imagine what they're going through."
A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, is being released by Iran, but his release is not part of the negotiated prison swap, U.S. officials said Saturday. Senior U.S. administration officials described Trevithick as a student who was recently detained in Iran, reports CNN.