Comparing President Obama’s praise of gay athlete Jason Collins in April with his inaction toward her husband’s plight, Naghmeh Abedini told CNSNews, “Here’s Saeed continually being tortured and told to deny his faith and he’s standing up for it,” adding that President Obama should also be calling her husband a “strong American” and a “hero.”
Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen and former Muslim, was arrested last September as a threat to the national security of Iran for spreading his Christian faith. Last week, an Iranian court rejected his appeal and “refused to reduce his [eight]-year prison sentence.”
“One of the judges who issued the decision is Judge Ahmad Zargar, who was sanctioned by the European Union for issuing long-term and death sentences for peaceful protestors,” according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing the pastor's family.
Naghmeh Abedini pointed out that “over the last year, a lot of countries have actually taken the lead in speaking out for Saeed’s imprisonment,” recalling a United Nations hearing last year in which other nations spoke out on his behalf, with the notable exception of the U.S.
“Our President has not said a word, and that is amazing to me,” she told CNSNews, adding that she suspects her husband’s situation is “a sensitive issue” that “would ruffle a few feathers in terms of the Muslim community.”
Kerry ‘deeply concerned’ about imprisoned pastor’s condition
Although President Obama has not spoken out on Pastor Abedini’s behalf, Secretary of State John Kerry noted the upcoming one-year anniversary of his imprisonment last Wednesday and “respectfully” asked Iran “to work cooperatively with us” to release “U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran,” adding that “these men belong at home with those who love them and miss them.”
The State Department released two statements mentioning Pastor Saeed since his arrest last year. Kerry said in March that he is “deeply concerned” by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison,” and is “troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case.”
But absent more international pressure, his wife says, it is unlikely that Abedini will be released.
“It’s pretty much a done deal with the [Iranian] legal system,” she said, explaining that her only option is to “appeal to the Supreme Leader” and to encourage more “outside pressure” similar to that generated for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was originally given a death sentence for apostasy, but was acquitted last year after spending three years in an Iranian prison.
“Iran rightfully, I think, sees this as a national security threat,” Naghmeh Abedini said, “because if people are becoming Christians, they’ve even said that at the interrogations ….then we can’t control them.”
“We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law,” President Obama said in his second inaugural address, adding that “our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
But Guy Rodgers, executive director of grassroots organization ACT! for America, told CNSNews that “President Obama is very, very muted. He is not making the international case . . . with respect to the escalating human rights violations that are being perpetrated on Christians.”
President ‘more concerned about offending the mullahs’
Noting that Saeed Abedini is “emblematic” of the problem of religious persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Rodgers added that the president “is more concerned about offending the Muslim Brotherhood and offending the mullahs in Iran than he is about speaking out on these types of abuses.
“The leaders of these countries, whether they’re Muslim Brotherhood leaders or the mullahs in Iran, do not respect vacillation and they don’t respect timidity and they’re not going to be motivated to do anything contrary to what they would be inclined to do by soft pedal appeals from the secretary of state,” Rodgers said.
“If there isn’t more outcry from the most powerful leader in the world and the recognized leader of the free world, the likelihood of Pastor Abedini’s . . . sentence being reversed, I think, is probably fairly small,” Rodgers added. “It sure would help if there was some kind of message being sent that the western countries see this as sufficiently important to the relations in the international community between Iran and these countries.”
Naghmeh Abedini told CNSNews that both she and her husband grew up as Muslims, but converted to Christianity after having visions of Jesus. She said she initially met her husband while on a visit to Iran, where he was an underground pastor, and they eventually married. “From day one when I met him, he was a man of prayer. He would walk around the house for four or five hours a day and just pray and pray and worship,” she said.
They were both arrested by government officials in 2004 while visiting a house church member. She said Iranian interrogators told her at the time, “If you say you’re a Muslim, you will go free. If you say you are a Christian . . . you will go to women’s prison, you will never see your husband again, you will be raped, tortured, and could possibly die.”
“Their threats seemed so real,” she recalled, but in “one of the turning points in my life,” she refused to renounce her faith. “At that instant, I knew how real Jesus was.” By the end of the encounter, she said, the interrogator wept and asked for a Bible.
From that point, the couple’s “house churches grew from a few hundred to a few thousand to over 30 cities, over 100 house churches.” The couple emigrated to the U.S. in 2005.
Jamsheed Choksy, professor at Indiana University and panelist in a May event held by the Hudson Institute, mentioned that Pastor Saeed “could have been executed for his apostasy” and “for converting other Muslims.”
Choksy emphasized the power of international, public pressure, noting that “as Iranian leaders struggle against UN sanctions on the nuclear issue, Iranian leaders are seeking to avoid further alienation from the global community due to the human rights issue. So an opportunity exists.”
ACLJ lawyer Jordan Sekulow echoed this perspective, saying “The only chance . . . is people speaking out,” and that “if the story is talked about, people don’t get beaten as badly.”
Prayer vigil in front of White House planned
A Save Saeed petition has collected over 620,000 signatures, and prayer vigils will be held across the U.S. and internationally on Sept. 26th, the first anniversary of the pastor’s imprisonment. One prayer vigil will be held in front of the White House at noon.
“The number one thing I believe in is prayer. That’s what kept me up . . . has kept Saeed going in that prison.” Naghmeh Abedini said, calling for a spiritual reawakening in America. “We don’t want God in the formula, and that’s why we can’t solve the world’s problems.”
“I believe it’s the time . . . for millions and millions of Muslims to come to know Christ. That region has never been touched,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “Once they know Christ, that person changes. They become a vessel of love instead of a vessel of hate.”
Though her husband's “absence is painfully obvious” for Naghmeh Abedini, who lives in Boise, Idaho with the couple's two young children, she has hope that he will be released. “I believe in prayer and ultimately . . . I believe Christ will save Saeed.”