While we often think we're being persecuted for our faith in America, pastor Saeed Abedini knows the terribly real thing. He has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran, beaten and tortured. But according to his wife, God is upholding him in powerful ways. During this special edition of "BreakPoint This Week," you'll get the latest update from Mrs. Abedini and legal expert Tiffany Barrans, and you'll also find out what you can do to help end this horrific miscarriage of justice and violation of religious liberty.
Over the last several months you've likely heard of the situation of Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, Christian pastor, husband and father who, since September 2012, has been held in one of the most notorious prisons in Iran for his charitable work in that country and legal exercise of his religious liberty.
Saeed Abedini with his wife, Naghmeh and two children.
On July 28, 2012, Saeed, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, was visiting his family in Tehran and finalizing the board members for an orphanage he helped spearhead in Northwest Iran. During this trip, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unexpectedly detained Saeed, alleging that he had committed crimes against the security of Iran. After a period of intense interrogations, Saeed was relegated to house arrest and instructed to await court summons. On September 26, rather than that summons, members of the Revolutionary Guard raided his family's Tehran home and took Saeed into custody. Four days later, his family was informed of his whereabouts: he was being kept in solitary confinement at Evin Prison, one of the most notoriously vicious facilities in Iran.
After four weeks in solitary confinement interrupted only by abusive interrogations, Saeed was informed by an Iranian prosecutor that he would face charges for trying to undermine the government through his conversion from Islam to Christianity, and his subsequent ministry, which included starting a network of house churches, working with a foreign Christian television network, and conducting Christian conferences and leadership trainings outside of Iran. All of this, notes American Center for Law and Justice attorney Tiffany Barrans, was done in accordance with the laws of Iran at the time, and should not merit charges.
According to Saeed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, who has been in limited contact with her husband since he was imprisoned, Saeed has endured beatings and threats of death for his Christian faith in the intervening months. "[I am] told I will hang for my faith in Jesus," writes Saeed in a letter to his Naghmeh. According to Barrans, who serves as International Legal Director at ACLJ, and has dealt with similar cases, Saeed's assigned judge, Pir-Abassi of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, is a notorious offender against human rights, and has presided over numerous unfair trials and even sentenced human rights activists to death. He is known in Iran as "the hanging judge."
Denied access to his attorney until less than a day before his trial, Saeed appeared before Judge Pir-Abassi on January 21, 2013 to offer his defense. Despite repeated overtures from Iranian officials that Saeed's family could secure his release on bail, the request continually met with denial. Most shockingly, a court administrator threatened a close friend of the Abedini family who was assisting in them in securing bail.
During the trial, Saeed and his attorney were prohibited from entering the court room while the prosecution questioned witnesses. Several days later, after Saeed had presented his defense, the court convicted him and sentenced him to eight years in prison. Saeed remains in Evin, where prison staff have denied him medical treatment because of his Christian faith, all in violation of Articles 13, 14, and 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which guarantee a right to freely practice religion, as well as Articles 9, 18, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.
Saeed is prohibited from making phone calls to his family, and has continued to endure abuse at the hands of his jailors. He is, however, able to communicate occasionally via letters. According to his wife, Naghmeh, Saeed's faith in Christ alone has sustained him. For Naghmeh and her children, too, the knowledge that Saeed's endurance in the face of persecution honors the Lord helps them cope:
"There's the theory of Christianity and Who Jesus is, and then there's the reality, when you really taste it and when you grasp it," says Mrs. Abedini. "[That] can take away all the anxiety, all the depression and worries, and give you a calm that no human being in this world can give you—that the world can't take from you, no matter the news (you know, the latest is his eight-year sentence). It's supernatural. The world doesn't understand it, and I don't understand it. It's a gift, and it comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ."
Naghmeh expresses a heartfelt desire that her husband's imprisonment would redound in greater glory for God, and especially that more ears would hear the Gospel through Saeed's situation. But of course, she and their children desperately want and need him back. And that's where you can help.
Tiffany Barrans urges our listeners to join the over 100 thousand who have already signed the American Center for Law and Justice's petition to the United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights designed to put pressure on Iran. She also directs us to the ACLJ's action list of steps our listeners, their families and their churches can take right now to help secure pastor Abedini's release.
Persecution is nothing new for Christians. Jesus promised we would endure hatred for confessing His name. But never before has the Church worldwide had the kinds of tools for influencing hotbeds of persecution and communicating the plight of our mistreated brothers and sisters as we enjoy today. Taking advantage of these can show oppressive governments the world over, not to mention policymakers here at home, that we mean business when it comes to our religious freedom. But more importantly, it can also save lives and reunite families. Let us pray earnestly that God will grant just such an outcome for pastor Saeed Abedini and his family. And then, let's do something to help them.