On Friday, the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on the persecution of religious minorities in Iran. It will feature Nagmeh Abedini, the wife of a Christian pastor currently jailed in Iran.
Nagmeh’s husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, is an American citizen who was sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly promoting Christianity in Iran. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan body created by Congress to advance human rights around the world, has organized the hearing to highlight the lack of religious freedom in Iran. This attention hopefully will lead the Obama Administration to take stronger action to support religious freedom in Iran and press for Abedini’s release.
Saeed became an American citizen in March 2010 and claims dual citizenship, a concept that Iran does not recognize. On his latest visit to Iran, Saeed sought to finalize plans for the construction of an orphanage but was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and put under house arrest. Without warning, Saeed was taken from the house in September 2012 and confined to the Evin Prison, known for its harsh conditions and interrogation tactics. He has been in prison since.
Saeed was charged with undermining Iran’s national security because of his alleged attempts to spread Christianity, and he was allowed only a week to present his defense. Saeed’s access to his own attorney was severely limited, and his case was brought before Judge Pir-Abassi, who was sanctioned by the EU and recommended for American sanctions by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Saeed’s trial and confinement violate several domestic laws in Iran and international agreements to which Iran is party.
Americans and Christians worldwide are doing what they can for Saeed. A petition for his release has reached over 450,000 signatures, social networking sites coordinate support, and dozens of Christian artists and celebrities have given their name to the cause. On his first day as Secretary of State, John Kerry condemned Iran for its violations of religious freedom and called for Saeed’s release.
U.S. citizens like Saeed should be able to rely on the strongest possible State Department backing to protect them from harsh interrogations and unwarranted confinement in other countries and ensure that each American receives a fair and thorough trial. The State Department should make every effort to stand firm with Saeed Abedini and protect religious freedom at home and abroad.