Saeed Abedini, a pastor who holds American citizenship and has been captive in Iran for nearly two years, faces new dangers and death threats from fellow prisoners, say his family’s representatives.
“Not only is Pastor Saeed facing threats from Iranian militants who have imprisoned him because of his Christian faith,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said Aug. 13; “he now faces new and perhaps even more dangerous threats from Iraqi ISIS prisoners who want to murder Pastor Saeed because of his faith.”
Sept. 26 will mark the second year of Abedini's imprisonment. A Protestant pastor who had formerly worked with house churches in Iran, he was ostensibly arrested for threatening Iranian national security.
Now held in Rajai Shahr Prison, Abedini has received death threats from incoming prisoners associated with the Islamic State because of his Christian faith.
The Islamic State is a Sunni Muslim caliphate established June 29 in portions of Syria and Iraq; earlier this week it gained control over the Iraqi city of Jalawla, located fewer than 25 miles from Iran.
The Islamic State has persecuted all non-Sunnis in its territory, including Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims.
Iran, which is holding Abedini, is Shia Muslim theocracy which in turn persecutes all non-Shias, including Sunnis.
According to the U.S. state department, in 2013 Iranian Sunnis can be imprisoned and face religious discrimination; they were barred from building new schools or mosques, and faced due process violations.
Last year, 20 Sunni inmates in Rajai Shahr – where Abedini is being detained – were convicted of a capital offense.
According to reports from his family members relayed through the ACLJ, Abedini is currently in a separate section of the ward, but is “concerned that he will be subjected to the general prison population – including the ISIS terrorists – during a brief, daily exercise period in the prison yard.”
Fellow inmates are helping to protect Abedini and help him hide in his prison cell, separated from the prisoners giving the death threats, although some prisoners associated with the Islamic State have been able to enter into Abedini’s ward section.
“This is an extremely dangerous development that puts Pastor Saeed’s life at grave risk,” said Sekulow.
“We call on President Obama and Secretary Kerry to intervene immediately to secure Pastor Saeed’s release and to ensure that he is protected during this transfer to freedom. Pastor Saeed, who is approaching his second year of imprisonment in Iran, must be returned to his family without delay.”
Abedini, who was born and raised Muslim in Iran, converted to Christianity in 2000. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying his wife, Naghmeh, who settled in Idaho and had two children. She is represented by Sekulow.
Traveling frequently to Iran to work with house churches in the country, Abedini received the attention of the Iranian government. Although the churches were legal, the government’s objection led him to strike a deal with the Iranian government in which he was still able to travel freely in the country, so long as he stopped working with house churches. Following this agreement, Abedini switched his focus to working with non-religious orphanages.
Abedini was arrested in 2012 while visiting one of these orphanages and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in Iran for unspecified charges of threatening national security.
According to his family’s reports, his treatment in prison has been harsh, sustaining a number of beatings and injuries, receiving poor medical care and neglect following his injuries, and physical and psychological abuse over the past two years.