The Iranian Revolutionary Court on Sunday sentenced Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini to eight years in prison for supporting the Iran’s Christian house-church movement.
Iranian officials arrested Abedini, 32, who lives in Idaho with his wife and two young children, in September. He was then handed over last month to Judge Abbas Pirabbasi, known internationally as the “hanging judge.” His trial, denounced by his supporters as a sham proceeding, began Jan. 21. Officials allowed Abedini and his lawyer to attend and present evidence during just one day of the weeklong trial.
Abedini’s conviction followed promises he would be released. Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, said, in a statement issued through the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), she was devastated for her husband and her family.
“The promise of his release was a lie,” she said. “We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government. These false hopes amount to psychological torture. You don’t want to trust them, but they build a glimmer of hope before the crushing blow.”
The pastor’s supporters in the United States pledged Sunday to continue fighting for his release.
After months of silence, the U.S. government finally called on Iran earlier this month to set Abedini free. On Sunday, U.S. State Department spokesman Darby Holladay reiterated that call and said the American government was concerned about the fairness and transparency of Abedini’s trial: “We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion.”
Abedini’s family is working with State Department officials and the ACLJ to persuade the Iranian government to let him go.
“This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice,” said Jordan Sekulow, the ACLJ’s executive director. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.”
Abedini grew up a devout Muslim in Iran and even trained to become a suicide bomber. He was on his way to murder a pastor when two Christians shared the gospel with him and prayed for him. He abandoned the assassination attempt and accepted Christ several weeks later. He soon began evangelizing to Muslims in Iran and helped form an underground house-church movement.
In 2006, Abedini and his wife moved to the United States. Although he became a U.S. citizen in 2010, Iran does not recognize his dual citizenship. U.S. State Department officials have been reluctant to get involved in the case, in part because of Abedini’s history in Iran, according to the ACLJ.
Abedini returned to Iran last year to visit his parents and set up a non-sectarian orphanage.
In a letter sent to family and friends earlier this month, Abedini said he had been tortured during his four months in notoriously brutal Evin prison. Even so, he proclaimed his joy at the privilege of suffering for his faith: “When I think that all of these trials and persecutions are being recorded in heaven for me, my heart is filled with complete joy.”