By Baptist Press Staff
WASHINGTON (BP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Friday (March 22) called for the release of pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who is suffering in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison because of his Christian faith.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini’s wife and two young children living in the United States, called Kerry’s statement “a tremendous step forward in our government’s involvement in securing Pastor Saeed’s freedom.”
Kerry, in a press statement issued while in the Middle East, said, “I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.”
The secretary of state added, “I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.”
Kerry also said he is “troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case and Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran.”
“I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” Kerry said.
The statement came hours after ACLJ released a letter from Abedini recounting the torture he is enduring and one day after a State Department official finally mentioned Abedini’s case before the U.N. Human Rights Council. (See Baptist Press story here).
Prior to that mention, State Department and White House officials had previously addressed Abedini’s case in public only when questioned by reporters and others, Fox News said, adding that Kerry’s statement marked a new level of escalation in the administration’s statements.
ACLJ had called on Kerry to act on Abedini’s behalf by Friday, which marked one week since the State Department was entirely absent from a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding Abedini’s case that included testimony from his wife Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho.
On Friday evening, Naghmeh Abedini said she was “very encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s statement demanding Saeed’s immediate release.”
“I am very happy to read that although Secretary Kerry has asked for medical treatment for Saeed, he does not stop there and states that the best outcome is Saeed’s immediate release,” she said.
“I hope to see more proactive actions from our government. Saeed and I are both proud to be Americans. I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States,” Naghmeh Abedini said.
Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, testified at the congressional hearing alongside Abedini’s wife and said Friday he was pleased with Kerry’s “bold and public statement” on the pastor’s behalf.
“The voice of nearly 550,000 people worldwide is being heard and is now being echoed by the top diplomat of the United States,” Sekulow said, referring to a petition for Abedini’s release at SaveSaeed.org.
“Pressure works. Now the focus turns to Iran. The world is watching. Iran must honor its promises, its international obligations and the human rights of this U.S. citizen. Iran must free Pastor Saeed,” Sekulow said.
In the letter from Abedini written on scraps of newsprint, the badly beaten prisoner said he is able to endure because the joy of the Lord is his strength and he has learned to forgive those who persecute him.
“I forgave the prison doctor who did not listen to me and did not give me the medication that I needed. I forgave the interrogator who beat me,” Abedini wrote. “… The minute I forgave them and loved them, that second I was filled with unspeakable joy. … Love is as strong as death.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).