UPDATE: The U.S. State Department spoke up against Saeed Abedini's imprisonment for the first time today in its daily briefing: "We have serious concerns about the fate of two U.S. citizens detained in Iran, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini. … We understand that a hearing will be held soon, and we call on Iranian officials to respect Iran’s own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney."
PREVIOUS STORY: Iranian authorities last weekend handed over imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini to a revolutionary court judge internationally known for his unfair and harsh sentences. As Abedini’s situation worsens, the U.S. State Department has yet to take action to secure his release, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
Iranian-born Abedini is a Muslim convert to Christianity who led the Iranian house church movement before moving to America in 2005. He was arrested by Iranian officials in July while visiting family and setting up a non-sectarian orphanage in the country. The government put him under house arrest until September, when they threw him in Evin prison. Although the government never officially announced the charges against him, they view house churches as a national security threat.
Local Iranian prosecutors recently transferred his case to Judge Abbas Pirabassi, known as one of the three notorious “hanging judges” for his penchant to send political prisoners to the gallows. After Pirabassi presided over numerous unfair trials of Iranian journalists, religious minorities, protesters, and human rights activists, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the State Department to sanction him. But the U.S. government has yet to take any action.
Tiffany Barrans, ACLJ International legal director, said Abedini’s transfer to Pirabassis is very troubling: “This sends a strong message that they will not even give a semblance of a fair trial—the lawyer can’t even meet his client, he has no access to the file with the official charge, he is not given court hearings—absolutely nothing about it is a fair trial or due process.”
Despite repeated calls to the State Department, the ACLJ has not been able to get the U.S. government to help. Abedini gained U.S. citizenship after marrying his American wife. They reside in Idaho with their two children, ages 4 and 6. Barrans said the State Department has given excuse after excuse for its unwillingness to help—the United States doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Iran; Iran doesn’t recognize Abedini’s dual citizenship; and Americans in another country need to follow that country’s laws.
“In this instance he didn’t break any law, he was just exercising his religious liberty,” Barrans said.
The Iranian constitution recognizes Christianity as an official religion and allows churches in the country, although the churches cannot allow Muslims or former Muslims inside. If a Muslim does convert, he must join an underground house church, which the government considers a threat to the country.
In interrogations, officials have told Abedini unofficially that he is imprisoned for undermining the government by developing the house church network, working with Christian satellite television stations, and for evangelizing Muslims. Abedini explained the dangers he faces daily in a recent letter sent to friends and family.
“This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my family and kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus,” he wrote. “One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.”
His family members in Iran, all Muslim converts to Christianity, also are under house arrest, with their bank accounts frozen and the deed for their house confiscated. Authorities told family members they would lose their house if the government could prove that the family ever held a Bible study in the home, ACLJ said.
Still, from his prison cell Abedini rejoices in his ability to share with his prison mates the joy he finds in Christ: “When I think that all of these trials and persecutions are being recorded in heaven for me, my heart is filled with complete joy.”