Pastor Abedini Still in Prison in Iran

Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor detained in Iran since 2012, has become the international face of the Islamic Republic’s brutal persecution of Christians. Pastor Abedini, a convert from Islam, refuses to renounce his faith despite torture.

He was arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps while visiting relatives and building an orphanage in the city of Rasht. Initially placed under house arrest, he was transferred to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and later to Rajai Shahr Prison, which reportedly is even more dangerous.

Tiffany Barrans—international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a law firm and social activism organization that has represented Abedini and his family since shortly after his arrest—told JNS. org, “Originally, he was housed with those convicted of murder. Now he is housed with the political prisoners.”

“Saeed is anything but political,” she said. “He really truly was there building an orphanage and doing humanitarian work.”

“Iran is getting relief from its embargo, it’s allowed to pursue its ballistic missile program, and they don’t even have to stop their support for terrorism.”

Barrans said Abedini has been forced to live in horrid conditions and has been given no protein or clean water. He lives in a room built for 20 people that houses 80 who share one toilet. “Feces and urine leak from the ceiling above,” she said.

Abedini is also suffering from two medical conditions that doctors say require surgery, but Iran has refused treatment.

In early June, the families of four American prisoners in Iran testified on Abedini’s behalf before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The Iranian government has repeatedly told Saeed he holds the key to his freedom—but this key would be to deny his faith and return to Islam,” his wife, Naghmeh, said. “Yet Saeed has refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ in the face of torture and abuse.”

According to Open Doors USA, a nonprofit Christian human rights group, Iran ranks seventh on the list of countries “where Christians face the most persecution,” and the magnitude of that persecution rates as “extreme.”

“According to the Iranian state, only Armenians and Assyrians can be Christian. Ethnic Persians are by definition Muslim, and ethnic Persian Christians are considered apostates,” Open Doors USA said. “This makes almost all Christian activity illegal, especially when it occurs in Persian languages, from evangelism to Bible training to publishing Scripture and Christian books or preaching in Farsi,” the group added. “In 2014, at least 75 Christians were arrested. More Christians were sentenced to prison, and pressure on those detained increased, including physical and mental abuse.”

David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a large pro-Israel organization in the United States, said CUFI is increasingly prioritizing the plight of Mideast Christians and sees the situation as “one of the greatest human rights tragedies of our day.”

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has defended his administration’s decision to separate the Iran nuclear deal from the cases of American prisoners, arguing that Iran would use the prisoners as bargaining chips.

Brog rejected that argument, saying the “administration’s excuse for not insisting on the freedom of all the prisoners is pathetic.” While the White House does not want to link the nuclear deal to “extraneous issues like the prisoners,” it allowed Iran “to do exactly that,” he said.

“Iran is getting relief from its embargo, it’s allowed to pursue its ballistic missile program, and they don’t even have to stop their support for terrorism. So the fact is that these issues are already linked. We should have insisted on the freedom of our prisoners just like we should have insisted on the end of terror,” Brog told JNS.org.

Sean Savage/JNS.org

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