Politicians, musicians, and hundreds of thousands of supporters are calling for the release of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced for his faith to serve eight years in an Iranian prison.
On Thursday, 84 members of Congress urged Secretary of State John Kerry to “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini’s immediate release.”
The bipartisan letter stressed the importance of defending the most fundamental of human rights: “As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights.”
Iranian officials detained Abedini in July while he was legally in the country to help build a non-sectarian orphanage. He has been in prison since September. Officials put him through a sham trial in late January, sentencing him to eight years in the notorious Evin prison for his work with Iran’s underground house church movement.
Last week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini’s wife, began a social media campaign to gather 300,000 signatures to present to the United Nations, the European Union, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. The petition urges them to “take all available diplomatic action to press Iran to respect human rights and released Pastor Saeed.”
ACLJ gathered musicians, including Toby Mac, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Ricky Skaggs, and Josh Turner, to create online videos urging viewers to sign the petition. Thanks in part to the videos and a social media campaign that made #SaveSaeed a trending topic on Twitter, the petition has 210,690 signatures.
“More and more people are talking about Pastor Saeed and calling for his release, which means more international media, governments, and world leaders will be willing to put pressure on Iran for his release,” ACLJ’s Matthew Clark said in a statement.
Abedini’s wife and children have been prohibited from speaking with Abedini on the phone, although his family in Iran was able to visit him briefly last week. According to ACLJ, Abedini seemed concerned about his fate and questioned whether anything was being done to secure his freedom. Iranian prison guards have tried to convince him that he has been forgotten.
“When I heard this from my husband I cried,” said Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh. “It broke my heart. Behind those walls he feels helpless and relies on us to be his voice. It is so easy to feel forgotten in the walls of the prison.”