As the United States contemplates strikes against a defiant Syria and relations with a tumultuous Egypt, another drama is unfolding in a prison cell in Tehran: American pastor Saeed Abedini is losing hope for leaving the most notorious prison in Iran.
An Iranian court rejected Abedini’s appeal for release on Monday, and refused to reduce his eight-year prison sentence. The pastor’s wife—Naghmeh Abedini—called the announcement “devastating” to their family.
Iranian authorities arrested Abedini, 33, nearly a year ago, after he traveled to Iran from his home in Idaho to visit family and help with humanitarian work. Officials charged the Iranian-born pastor with undermining state security for his Christian activities in the country’s underground church movement.
Abedini grew up in a Muslim home in Iran and trained to become a suicide bomber before his conversion to Christianity at age 20. He became active in organizing Christians in the country’s growing underground church movement, apart from the Islamic government’s official approval or control.
Authorities jailed and released Abedini several times before he moved to the U.S. in 2004 with his wife and became an American citizen. After his return to Iran for a visit last year, authorities arrested him. In January, a judge found Abedini guilty and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Abedini has endured abuse and deteriorating health during his 12 months in the country’s infamous Evin Prison, and had appealed his sentence to the Tehran Court of Appeals.
The U.S.-based American Center for Law and Justice announced on Aug. 26 that a two-panel judge rejected Abedini’s request for release or a reduced sentence. The panel refused to give a copy of the decision to Abedini’s attorney.
Naghmeh Abedini said she and her two young children were deeply disappointed with the decision, but she also expressed disappointment with the U.S. government for saying little about the American’s imprisonment during the last year.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for Abedini’s “immediate release” in March, but the State Department hasn’t issued another statement about the pastor in months.
“I am disappointed that as a country that was founded on religious freedom, our government has been awkwardly silent as an American citizen is wasting away in an Iranian prison because he chose to practice his God-given right to choose his religion,” Naghmeh said in a prepared statement.
The family will consider remaining legal options, including appealing her husband’s case to the Supreme Court in Tehran or directly to the Ayatollah Khamenei, Naghmeh said.
In the meantime, she asked American officials to press for her husband’s release: “I do hope and pray that as a nation we realize that if we do not speak out against injustice, it is only a matter of time before all our children will have to face what my children are facing today. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Read more WORLD coverage of Abedini's case.