The Unites States’ agreement with Iran over its nuclear capabilities betrayed one of America’s own, held captive in Iran for his religious beliefs, says an organization representing Pastor Saeed Abedini’s family. Abedini has been in prison in Iran for 486 days and counting.
“The administration didn’t even mention Pastor Saeed in its negotiations,” wrote Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has advocated for Abedini’s release.
Abedini, a Christian, was arrested in September 2012 while working at a non-sectarian orphanage in Iran. An Iranian court sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison for his involvement in the country’s house church movement.
In the days leading up to the talks between six world powers and Iran, some members of Congress urged the Obama administration to leverage it’s position in the negotiations to secure Abedini’s release.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had harsh criticism for the White House after the details of the deal became public. He noted that Abedini is among three Americans the Iranian government has reportedly detained. The other two are FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007, and Amir Hekmati, arrested in 2011 for allegedly spying on Iran for the CIA.
“American citizens are not bargaining chips, and there should be no further discussion while they are languishing in prison,” Cruz wrote Monday on the website of the journal Foreign Policy.
On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement appealing to Iran for Levinson’s release, but made no note of Abedini or Hekmati. President Barack Obama reportedly asked for the release of Abedini and Hekmati in a September phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Abedini’s wife told Fox News Radio she planned to appeal to other countries for help since her own government ignored her husband in its diplomacy with Iran.
“I don’t think we have any more leverage,” Nagmeh Abedini said in the interview. “We now have to consider other avenues and having other countries speak out because our country, when we could have used our leverage, chose to stay silent.”
ACLJ’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, will travel to Germany in December in attempt to build international support for the effort to release Abedini.
Although Abedini has lived in the United States since 2004 and is a U.S. citizen, he traveled back to Iran occasionally to visit family. Earlier this month, Abedini was moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, about 90 minutes outside the nation’s capital. Guards there told Abedini’s family he was not allowed to have visitors. Rajai Shahr is known to house the country’s worst criminals, including murders and rapists. A Dutch diplomat who visited the prison in 2005 described it as a place where political prisoners are sent for the most severe punishment. Because many of the criminals housed there already face the death penalty, violence between inmates is common.