Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Left Behind

Pastor Steve Wright mails with an important request for help:

Like many Americans, I am both grieved and angry that the recent nuclear deal with Iran did not include Pastor Saeed Abedini's release. I'm sure you are aware of his plight. A few of us last week decided to organize a social media showing of support, using Facebook, Twitter, our blogs, websites, and any other platforms available. We are focused on a date this week, Dec 4th, to use these platforms to flood the internet to publicize the injustice and hopefully increase government pressure on Iran to release this innocent American.

There is a Facebook page called Free Saeed where over 23,000 people have already expressed their support for the imprisoned American.

Here is more background on his story:

Abedini is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000. While Christianity is recognized as a minority religion under the Iranian constitution,Muslim converts to Christianity suffer discrimination at the hands of Iranian authorities. In particular, such converts are disallowed from worshipping with other Christians in established Christian churches, which has led to the establishment of so-called "house" or "underground" churches where these converts can worship together.

In 2002, Abedini met and married his wife Naghmeh, an American citizen. In the early 2000s, the Abedinis became prominent in the house church movement in Iran, at a time when the movement was tolerated by the Iranian government. During this period, Abedini is credited with establishing about 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities with more than 2,000 members. With the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005, however, the house church movement was subjected to a crackdown by Iranian authorities and the Abedinis moved back to the United States.

Abedini's first trip back to Iran was in 2009 to visit his family, when government authorities detained him. According to Abedini, he was threatened with death during his interrogation over his conversion to Christianity. Ultimately he was released after signing an agreement in which he pledged to cease all house church activities in the country.

In 2008, Abedini became an ordained minister in the U.S. and in 2010, he was granted American citizenship, thus becoming a dual Iranian-American citizen. Abedini had been living the past several years with his family in Boise, Idaho, where his wife grew up. The couple has two children and they are members of the Calvary Chapel church.

July 2012, Abedini made his ninth trip to Iran since 2009 to visit his family and continue his work to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht. While in the country, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confiscated his passports and placed him under house arrest. He was later transferred to Evin Prison, where he has been incarcerated since late September.

In mid-January 2013, it was reported that Abedini would go on trial on January 21, and could face the death penalty. He was charged with compromising national security, though the specific allegations were not made public. His supporters said his arrest was due to his conversion and efforts to spread Christianity in Iran. On January 21, 2013, Iranian state media reported that Abedini would be released after posting a $116,000 bond. His wife, however, stated that the government "has no intention of freeing him and that the announcement is 'a game to silence' international media reports."

On January 27, 2013, Judge Pir-Abassi sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison. According to Fox News, Abedini was sentenced for having "undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and ... attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam." The evidence against Abedini was based primarily on his activities in the early 2000s. Abedini was meant to serve his time in Evin Prison. The U.S. State Department condemned the sentence: "We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him."

Early November 2013, Abedini was transferred from Tehran to the Rajai Shahr prison in the townn of Karaj, which is populated with heavy criminals, and has harsher, sometimes life-threatening, conditions.

It is inexcusable that any negotiations with the Iranian regime or terms of any deal would not include the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who lost his freedom because of his Christian faith and more specifically because of his desire to build an orphanage in Iran. During the Cold War, the United States often publicly mentioned the plight of and negotiated for better treatment of Soviet dissidents during talks with the USSR. Our government should not shrink from standing firm for Saeed Abedini’s freedom today and should not, in the interest of a “grand bargain” with Iran, be willing to sacrifice it for a perceived “greater good.”