Pastor Saeed Abedini’s Holy Week struggle

For six months, Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen whose family we represent, has been imprisoned in one of Iran’s most brutal and deadly prisons because of his religious beliefs.

And for the first time since his captivity, the U.S. government has made proactive statements calling on Iran to immediately release Pastor Saeed.

This welcomed development occurred at the end of last week. First, on Thursday, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe presented remarks specifically citing Pastor Saeed’s case to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva – the same venue where the U.S. government failed to specifically address Pastor Saeed’s plight at a meeting earlier this month.

The statement provided, “We repeat our call for the Government of Iran to release Mr. Abedini, and others who are unjustly imprisoned, and to cease immediately its persecution of all religious minority communities.”

Then on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry made the boldest U.S. statement to date, demanding Iran release Pastor Saeed and allow him to obtain the medical treatment he so desperately needs.

Secretary Kerry stated:

“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.

“I am also troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case and Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran. I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released.”

These statements did not come easily. It took a congressional hearing – which the State Department did not attend – increasing pressure from Congress and the media, meetings with the State Department, and more than 500,000 signatures on our petition calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.

We are encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s personal engagement in this case and are eager to work more closely with the State Department as we urge other nations to pressure Iran for Pastor Saeed’s release.

Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, who recently testified in a congressional hearing asking for Secretary Kerry’s direct involvement, responded:

“I am very encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s statement demanding Saeed’s immediate release. I am very happy to read that although Secretary Kerry has asked for medical treatment for Saeed, he does not stop there, and states that the best outcome is Saeed’s immediate release. I hope to see more proactive actions from our government. Saeed and I are both proud to be Americans. I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States.”

At the ACLJ, we have also learned that after suffering from internal bleeding – the result of continued beatings and torture – Pastor Saeed was examined by a doctor and was told he will receive medical treatment at a hospital outside the prison. Yet, after more than a week, he has still not received that promised treatment.

Now, we have even more evidence about his deteriorating health from Pastor Saeed himself – from inside his prison cell – scribbling a note to his wife on scraps of newspaper.

Pastor Saeed writes in a letter sent to his family and shared with our organization that the beatings and torture are taking a toll: “My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown.” When he finally got a glimpse of his face in a mirror, Pastor Saeed wrote: “I did not recognize myself.”

After multiple beatings in interrogations at the hands of the radical Islamic regime, Pastor Saeed wrote that the nurse who was supposed to treat injured inmates told him “‘in our religion we are not suppose to touch you, you are unclean. . . . Christians are unclean!’” He explained, “they would not give me the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because I was unclean.”

These new developments point to one thing – time is of the essence.

The fact is Pastor Saeed’s health continues to deteriorate. And, now the U.S. government has engaged this case at the highest levels – with our U.N. representative and our nation’s top diplomat both speaking out clearly and forcefully calling for Pastor Saeed’s immediate release.

That coupled with strong statements of support for Pastor Saeed from the international community, the focus is now squarely on Iran.

The world is watching. Iran must release Pastor Saeed without delay.

As we fight for his freedom, hope remains, and this Holy Week, we remember the God who “set captives free.”