For the most part, we all know that there are places in the world where Christians undergo immense persecution for their faith. But for most of us this is a distant occurrence, something that we don’t spend much time thinking about. We take the religious liberty we have as Americans for granted. The reality is that in many parts of the world, especially Iran, being a Christian and practicing your religious beliefs are serious “criminal” offenses.
It’s time for people of all faiths to come together and stand up for religious freedom. No one should be imprisoned, or worse, because of his or her religious beliefs.
American Pastor Saeed Abedini, whom we first wrote about here before Christmas, has now undergone a sham trial in Iran, an unwarranted conviction for his Christian faith, and been sentenced to years of life-threatening torture and beatings in one of Iran’s most horrendous prisons. His “trial” was bereft of any semblance of justice, due process, or human rights, and his conviction violates international human rights laws that even Iran has sworn to uphold.
Pastor Saeed, a 32-year-old father of two young children, was imprisoned in Iran on September 26, 2012, while working to establish a non-religious orphanage. One week before his trial, his Muslim attorney, Dr. Naser Sarbazi, was for the first time allowed access to Pastor Saeed’s court file. Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – was charged with intentionally attempting to undermine the national security of Iran through his work establishing a network of Iranian house churches in the years following his conversion from Islam to Christianity in 2000.
With his wife and children at home in Idaho, Pastor Saeed’s trial began on Monday, January 21, 2013, Inauguration Day, nearly 32 years to the day since 52 U.S. hostages were released by Iran.
Dr. Sarbazi was given less than 24 hours to meet with his client before trial. Only Pastor Saeed, his attorney and his father were permitted to attend the first day of the trial. Then they were barred from further proceedings.
Iran continued the trial in secret, without him or his attorney present for at least one more day, forcing fellow Christians to testify against the persecuted pastor.
It is unclear how long the sham trial against Pastor Saeed continued. What is clear, however, is that Iran and Judge Pir-Abassi, one of Iran’s infamous “hanging judges” who conducted the trial, have engaged in an attempt to spread lies and disinformation about the case, while conducting the trial in secret.
Iranian officials repeatedly issued contradictory statements – promising that Pastor Saeed would be released on bail – only to repeatedly reject those bail requests.
This has been a repeated promise by the Iranian regime since Saeed was first thrown in prison. We have presented bail. After the Judge told Saeed’s lawyer that bail was back on the table, the family in Tehran ran around in circles today to make sure Saeed was let out on bail. But again the bail officer rejected bail. This is a game to silence the international media.
Then, on January 27, 2013, Iran called Pastor Saeed’s attorney to court on pretense of releasing him on bail and handed down a conviction for undermining the national security of Iran for his work with house churches. The “hanging judge” sentenced Saeed to eight years in the brutal and deadly Evin Prison – a prison known to those who have served time there and survived as “Hell on Earth.”
Iran’s conviction of this U.S. citizen merely because of his religious beliefs violates numerous treaties to which Iran has willingly bound itself, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even its own constitution which provides that “investigation of individual’s beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”
The distortion, lies, and human rights abuses of Christians in Iran is all too common. Until now, our own government had been nearly silent about this case. Yet, in recent weeks, the State Department and the White House released statements condemning Iran’s abuse of human rights and demanding Saeed’s release.
We remain very concerned about U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who is detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. Mr. Abedini’s attorney had only one day to present his defense. And we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and the transparency of his trial. We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini’s human rights and to release him.
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, reiterated the State Department’s statement, adding:
[W]e we are deeply disappointed that Saeed Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge related to his religious beliefs. . . .
We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini. . . .
We obviously have a variety of means, including this podium, to express our views on matters like this, and we are very concerned about this and very concerned about the process that led to this.
We know that international pressure works. We saw that with the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was released for a second time earlier this year after being sentenced to execution for apostasy (converting to Christianity). His freedom is the direct result of immense international pressure.
With Pastor Saeed, international support is growing. More than 250,000 Americans, 49 members of the House and Senate, and now the White House and State Department have already spoken out demanding Pastor Saeed’s release.
The ACLJ has started a new campaign for his release through SaveSaeed.org, utilizing the immense power of social media to share this persecuted American’s story and urge international pressure on Iran for his release. On the first day of the new site, we were able to get the hashtag #SaveSaeed trending on Twitter.
Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen, is imprisoned in Iran. His conviction is solely based on his Christian faith.
He continues to be tortured, beaten, and subjected to mental torment by Iranian prison guards, so much so that he even questioned to his Iranian family whether anyone is working for his release.
His wife, Naghmeh, pleaded, “When I heard this from my husband, I cried. It broke my heart. Behind those walls he feels helpless and relies on us to be his voice. It is so easy to feel forgotten in the walls of the prison. Please help me make sure he is never forgotten.”
We cannot remain silent and allow this travesty to occur. Sign the petition for Saeed’s freedom, write letters to him and on his behalf, and share his compelling story of faith in the face of persecution. As we saw in the case of Pastor Youcef, your voice makes a difference.
Jordan Sekulow is executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Matthew Clark is an attorney at the ACLJ.