(CNSNews.com) – Amid growing international calls for Iran to release an imprisoned Iranian-American pastor, a regime mouthpiece reportedly has accused Saeed Abedini of spying for the U.S. government and brainwashing young Iranian Muslims to convert to “Zionist Christianity.”
According to Mohabat News – an independent Iranian Christian news agency – Iran’s Bultan News charged that Abedini, who was arrested while visiting Iran last September to build a non-sectarian orphanage, had been “commissioned” to pursue nine objectives.
These included the illegal planting of house churches; creating financial networks to support the spread of “Zionist Christianity” including attempts to brainwash and “recruit” Iranian orphans; and transmitting news from inside Iran “directly to the White House” – which it said amounted to an accusation of spying. (See Bultan News report, in Persian, here.)
Bultan (“Bulletin”) News is linked to Iran’s intelligence service and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another Iranian site linked to the intelligence service, Didehban News, also ran the report (also in Persian, available here.)
Abedini, a convert from Islam living in the U.S. in 2005, was sentenced in January to eight years’ imprisonment for “threatening the national security of Iran.”
Amid a campaign led by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the evangelical pastor’s plight taken up by members of Congress and by Secretary of State John Kerry. On Friday, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow brought his case before the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, with the pastor’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, sitting alongside him.
In his presentation before the HRC – during a session focusing on freedom of peaceful assembly – Sekulow charged that Abedini had been imprisoned “solely and only for exercising his right to peacefully assemble with others in his religious minority.”
“Saeed’s peaceful assembly violated no promulgated law nor has Iran demonstrated how the peaceful assembly of its religious minorities threatens its security,” Sekulow said.
By raising the notion of security-related offenses, the Bultan News report highlighted by Mohabat on Sunday appears to be an attempt to do just that.
Unlike some regimes that unapologetically discriminate against non-Muslim minorities Iran insists that it does not. Tehran reported to the HRC in 2010 that Iran was “a successful model of brotherly and peaceful coexistence” between Muslims and members of “recognized religious minorities” – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.
When the handing down of a death sentence on another pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, prompted international outrage in 2011, the regime brazenly denied that he was being punished for “apostasy” – even though court documents said as much. Instead, officials cited other supposed offenses, such as rape and “being a Zionist.” (Nadarkhani was eventually freed late last year.)
Mohabat said the Bultan allegations against Abedini were published in reports apparently designed to smear Iran’s reformist camp ahead of presidential elections next Friday, by trying to associate reformists with Christians.
The Bultan report was headlined, “The Reformist Government; Favorable for Zionist Christians.”
It cited a recent media interview in which Abedini’s wife commented that during the administration of former President Mohammed Khatami, the government’s response to Christians had been more open. She mentioned that when she and Saeed had got married their wedding was officially recognized as a Christian one.
Mohabat said the Bultan approach was in line with other attempts by regime elements to discredit reformists as elections loom.
Khatami is not running for the presidency, but remains a prominent figure among Iranian reformists. Among the eight presidential hopefuls allowed to compete, two are considered reformists, and both were prominent members of Khatami’s 1997-2005 administration.
The Bultan report also took aim at the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination, among the largest evangelical churches in Iran.
“Its congregation is formed of extremist Christians,” Mohabat quoted the report as saying. “They use different methods to promote their faith and convert Muslims into Christianity. They also want to portray an aggressive image of the Islamic regime in Iran to the international community.”
On May 21 Iranian authorities arrested the pastor of the AoG church in Tehran, and on May 27 ordered the church shut, according to the Christian news service, BosNewsLife.
More than 600,000 people from around the world have signed an ACLJ petition calling for freedom for Abedini.