Iranian authorities released American pastor Saeed Abedini from solitary confinement today after forcing him to spend the week of his birthday in a “small dark hole,” according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
Abedini, imprisoned for 225 days in Evin Prison because of his Christian faith, turned 33 on May 7 while in solitary confinement. Supporters sent more than 52,500 birthday messages to the prison addressed to Abedini.
His wife, Naghmeh, wrote in a letter: "With tightness in my throat, pain in my heart, and tears streaming down my face … I promise to stand strong in the strength of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fighting with every strength of my being until you are united to our family again.”
Abedini and nine other prisoners were sent to solitary confinement April 29 after fellow prisoners protested Iran’s lack of medical care, representatives from the ACLJ said. During his time in solitary, Abedini’s family in Iran was not allowed to visit him.
The family worries about Abedini’s health: He complained of internal bleeding from beatings by prison guards even before the solitary confinement and had been denied medical treatment for his injuries. The ACLJ told WORLD last month that Abedini suffers from frequent fainting, constant abdominal pain, blood in his stool, and is in need of immediate medical attention.
Naghmeh told the ACLJ that her husband’s return to the general prison is a hopeful sign: “His release from solitary is a direct result of the multitudes praying. I am relieved my husband is out of solitary, but still am deeply concerned about Saeed’s health. While this is a small victory, I am still demanding justice be done and that Saeed be released.”
Even with the Iranian government’s continued persecution of Christians like Abedini, Christianity is growing at an explosive rate in the country, according to Open Doors USA. About 40 years ago, Iran had just 200 Christians from a Muslim background. Now, some estimate as many as 370,000 converts attend house churches.
Opens Doors claims many Iranians became disillusioned about Islam after it became the country’s official religion in 1979. Especially after the 2009 elections, young people have been seeking truth elsewhere, often in house churches. Christianity is growing in Iran at about 20 percent annually, the fastest growth rate in the entire world.
Despite the pain Abedini is facing, in his latest letter dated March 9 he continued to hold on to his faith: “The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives. Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are often seen in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”
He closed the letter with “Pastor Saeed Abedini, the servant and slave of Jesus Christ in chains, with a lot of joy to see you soon.”
Read WORLD's full coverage of Saeed Abedini's case.