Naghmeh Abedini, the tireless wife of imprisoned Iranian-American Saeed Abedini, is leaving no stone unturned. When first lady Michelle Obama surprised an Academy Award audience on Feb. 24 to announce the film Argo the Best Picture winner, Naghmeh saw an opportunity and quickly went into action—asking anyone with contacts in Hollywood to petition Argo producer Ben Affleck and others on behalf of Iran’s latest hostage crisis, her husband.
Naghmeh’s husband, Saeed Abedini, is the 32-year-old Iranian-American sentenced in January to eight years in prison in Tehran. Abedini, his wife, and two children (ages 4 and 6), have lived in Boise, Idaho, since persecution in Iran forced them out in 2005. Abedini became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Trips to Iran since his departure, where he visited family, assisted underground churches, and more recently worked to start an orphanage, drew suspicion from the Islamic regime. Security officers arrested him in September and later charged him with activities “intended to undermine national security.” Those charges go back to his work starting a house-church movement following his conversion from Islam to Christianity in 2000.
The day after the Oscars, via a Facebook page (#SaveSaeed) with hundreds of followers, Naghmeh quickly received contact information for Affleck’s agent and other high-rollers. “We have not yet seen much fruit with celebrities, but are praying for open doors,” she told me. But Naghmeh isn’t waiting on the entertainment industry: Since the Oscars, she has given televised interviews on cable news shows. She and friends who span the globe have created T-shirts to sell promoting Saeed’s plight. They started a letter-writing campaign to Secretary of State John Kerry and petition-signings for the UN and others. One petition for his release has more than 414,000 signatures. On Feb. 26 she launched seven days of prayer and fasting for Abedini’s release.
“I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that we should pursue governments, media, and other avenues,” Naghmeh says, “and let the Lord close and open whichever door He pleases.”
The fervor of those varied efforts is no foil for sober developments in the case. Last month Abedini’s legal representative, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), released a letter dated Feb. 18 written by Abedini that describes torture and death threats inside the prison where he is being held. In the letter to his family, Abedini describes maltreatment such that his eyes “get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky.”
In Evin Prison, a complex northwest of Tehran notorious for its brutal treatment of political prisoners, Abedini said his incarceration includes “various (bullying) groups, the psychological warfare.” He complained of “a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked, being confronted with extremists in the prison who create another prison within the prison walls, and the death threats.”
With annual meetings of the UN Human Rights Council underway this month in Geneva, international lawyers filed papers on behalf of Abedini with the council. The filing by an ACLJ affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice, charges that the Iranian government violated the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Abedini’s case. Advocates hope the case will get further attention when the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran issues a report due later in March. Said Naghmeh: “I am tired, but grateful for opportunities to get the word out on Saeed.”