U.S. pastor marks 1 year in Iranian prison
NEW YORK (BP) -- As Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini marks one year in Tehran's brutal Evin Prison, his wife encountered Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, in a New York hotel lobby and passed along a letter from the prisoner to the president.
Naghmeh Abedini, who lives in Idaho with the couple's two children, was in New York to film interviews with Fox News, CNN and other outlets calling for her husband's release. She happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Iranian delegation, in town for the United Nations General Assembly.
As Rouhani approached the elevators Monday (Sept. 23), Naghmeh Abedini gave the letter to one of his delegates, who promised to deliver the letter to the president, the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing her, reported.
In the letter, Saeed Abedini recounts his plight and asks the Iranian president to initiate a review of his case, stating that according to Iran's constitution "choosing the religion and participating in religious meetings and activities are totally legitimate in Iran, but staying in prison for me and other people like me is for sure illegal."
Ahead of his first visit to the United States as Iran's president, Rouhani wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post Sept. 19 reminding Americans that he ran on a moderate platform of "prudence and hope" and gained a "broad, popular mandate."
"I'm committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world," Rouhani wrote, adding, "Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities."
Also in his column, Rouhani wrote of the Middle East, "We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates."
As Rouhani departed Iran for the United States, the Islamic Republic announced the release of 80 prisoners of conscience.
"Unfortunately, it appears that Pastor Saeed was not among those reportedly released," Jay Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, said Sept. 23. "We can confirm that Pastor Saeed's family in Tehran saw him today during regular visitation hours, and as of noon Tehran time, he was still imprisoned and the family has not been notified that his status has changed."
Sekulow noted that Rouhani is "clearly seeking international approval."
"If Iran's new president wants the American people and the international community to believe he is a true reformer, he must release Pastor Saeed. As long as prisoners of conscience, including a U.S. citizen, suffer torment in Iranian prisons, President Rouhani's claims of change will remain unsubstantiated."
Abedini's letter to Rouhani joins more than 80,000 such letters written on his behalf by concerned citizens around the world through Be Heard, a project launched in September by ACLJ for Abedini and other persecuted believers.
"Pastor Saeed is not the only Christian in chains for the Gospel," David French of ACLJ wrote Sept. 16. "He's not the only Christian who faces mortal peril simply because of his faith.... Go to Be Heard, write a letter for Pastor Saeed, then stay and learn about the plight of Christians in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and beyond."
Evangelist Billy Graham is among those who have written a letter to Iran's president calling for Abedini's release. Graham, who enjoyed a 50-year ministry as a spiritual adviser to American presidents, told Rouhani that Abedini's case has received a substantial amount of attention in the United States, reflecting negatively on Iran.
Graham wrote that he fears "that the current publicity surrounding the continued imprisonment of Pastor Abedini, an American citizen, may further harm the already fragile relationship that presently exists between our two nations."
If Rouhani would release Abedini, Graham wrote, such an action "might well be perceived by our leadership as a significant step in reducing tensions."
While President Obama has yet to speak publicly about Abedini, Secretary of State John Kerry has twice released statements calling for his release.
Prayer vigils worldwide Sept. 26
To mark the one-year anniversary of Abedini's imprisonment for his Christian faith Sept. 26, thousands of people will attend prayer vigils in more than 70 U.S. cities -- including Washington, D.C., and the Abedinis' hometown of Boise, Idaho -- and 13 countries worldwide to call on Iran to release the pastor and to pressure their own governments to take diplomatic action on his behalf, according to ACLJ.
More than 620,000 people worldwide have signed a petition demanding his release, underscoring the international attention his case has received.
In a blog post at DesiringGod.org Sept. 24, Naghmeh Abedini reflected on the spiritual strength she has gained during the past year because of a trial which she pleaded for God to remove.
"All I can remember about those first days are tear-soaked eyes and indescribable anxiety and grief. Evenings consisted of me holding my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son as they cried themselves to sleep asking for their daddy," she recounted.
As she has learned to receive and endure the hardship for the glory of God, Naghmeh Abedini wrote, "Saeed and I always asked God for opportunities to share the Gospel with the nations. We never anticipated it would be this way, but God has graciously heard and answered our prayers."
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).