Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen has been jailed for almost one year in Iran's notorious Evin Prison after working with the underground Christian community in the Islamic country. His situation has been the subject of increasing national interest since last September as his wife campaigns tirelessly for his release.
Now an internationally respected figure has added his voice to the chorus calling for his release- evangelist Billy Graham, who posted a letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani respectfully asking for the release of Abedini in the interests of promoting peace and reducing tension between the United States and Iran.
Graham wrote, "As you may know, as a religious leader I have often spoken (both publicly and also privately with our national leadership) about the need for greater understanding and peace among the nations of the world. As you come to the United States this week for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, it is my sincere hope that ways may be found to reduce the current tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Iran announced on Monday that it had freed 80 political prisoners, most likely for diplomatic reasons as new president Rouhani reaches out to the West at this week's U.N. gathering. However, Abedini's name was not on that list.
Graham continued, "On September 26, the one-year anniversary of Pastor Abedini’s imprisonment, thousands will attend prayer vigils in more than 70 U.S. cities, calling on your country to release this husband, father and servant of God. I join them by respectfully asking you to release Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison. Such an action would, I believe, have a positive impact in our nation, and might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions."
Abedini isn't the only pastor to face harsh punishment for being suspected of evangelizing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor, was jailed for three years and faced a death sentence before his release in 2012. Pastor Robert Asserian of the Central Assemblies of God Church was imprisoned for over a month earlier this year, and was told to keep quiet about his ordeal after his release.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has launched the largest letter-writing campaign in its history, sending thousands of letters to Rouhani each week to lobby for Abedini's release.
On Monday, Abedini's wife Nagmeh managed to hand-deliver a message to the Iranian UN delegation. Time will tell whether the notes will make the difference for Abedini and his family.