.- After repeatedly being petitioned by lawmakers and citizens, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith.
“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” said Kerry in a March 22 press release.
Secretary Kerry wrote that he was “disturbed” by accounts of Abedini’s “physical and psychological abuse in prison” as well as a “lack of due process” in Iran’s refusal to allow Swiss access to Abedini on behalf of the U.S.
“Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws,” Kerry commented.
He added his hopes that the pastor would be able to receive further medical attention from specialists outside of the prison.
“The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” the Secretary of State said.
Thirty-two year old Abedini is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison following a September 2012 arrest.
The pastor converted to Christianity from Islam in 2000 and has been a U.S. citizen since 2010, after marrying an American woman.
He initially attracted the ire of the Iranian regime for his work with house churches. In 2009, the government came to an agreement with him, under which he would stop his work with the churches in exchange for the ability to travel freely in the country.
Abedini then turned his focus to non-religious orphanages. However, when he was arrested last fall, Iranian officials cited his earlier work with churches, claiming that while such work is technically legal, he had threatened national security by doing so.
Abedini’s wife, Naghema, lives in the U.S. and has been working to raise awareness of her husband’s plight, aided by the European Centre for Law and Justice and the American Center of Law and Justice.
The organizations have helped collect nearly 550,000 signatures in support of Abedini. They have also run a Twitter campaign on his behalf and have presented his case to the United Nations and to members of Congress and the State Department.
Other prominent leaders have also called for the pastor’s release, including a group of Congressmen and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Eileen C. Donahoe.
Secretary Kerry’s response follows the release of a recent letter from Abedini to his wife describing the conditions of the prison, including brutal treatment of a disabled prisoner in solitary confinement.
In the letter, Abedini also describes the treatment he has received, including beatings and refusal of medical treatment by prison staff because of his beliefs. Due to the abuse he has suffered, the pastor said that he did not even recognize himself when he saw his image in a mirror for the first time in months.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center of Law and Justice, said that he was “very pleased” by Kerry’s statement.
“By speaking out directly on behalf of Pastor Saeed, Secretary Kerry is taking our government’s most aggressive action yet in working to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen,” he said.
He applauded the “bold and public statement,” along with the formal recognition of the abuses Abedini has suffered.
“By engaging the Pastor Saeed case at the highest level, we’re hopeful that the State Department will now do everything in its power to secure the release of this U.S. citizen,” Sekulow said.
Abedini’s wife also released a statement, saying that she was “hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States.”