Group trying to inspire release of Boise pastor imprisoned in Iran

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by Justin Corr

NWCN.com

Posted on December 20, 2012 at 5:53 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 12:38 AM

BOISE -- A family is without their husband and father this Christmas season as the Boise man sits in a brutal Iranian prison.

Saeed Abedini was helping to build an orphanage in his native country three months ago, when he was imprisoned because of his Christian faith and previous missionary work. That's according to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is trying to spread the word on his story and get him released.

"I'm very worried about his well-being," said Naghmeh Abedini (wife of Reverend Abedini) on the Jordan Sekulow Show.

September was the last time Abedini's family saw him. He is a father to a 6-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy.

"My 6-year-old understands so much more," said Naghmeh. "A few weeks ago, she was crying and crying, 'Mommy, I'm forgetting daddy's voice. I don't remember how his voice sounds anymore."

The reverend is a U.S. citizen and Christian who converted from Islam. He did missionary work in his native Iran until 2009. That's when he was held for two months in Tehran and released when he agreed with Iran's Intelligence Police that he would no longer perform church duties there.

Three months ago, Abedini was making his ninth visit to Iran since the 2009 incident, and helping to build a non-religious orphanage. He was arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guard who didn't honor the previous agreement.

Tiffany Barrans, with the American Center for Law and Justice, says Abedini hasn't been allowed to see his lawyer, or even been told what he's charged with, only that it was a national security offense. Barrans says Abedini did nothing of the sort, and he's being held because of his Christian beliefs.

"Iran has various court systems," said Barrans. "But unfortunately, many of their procedures and protections only exist on paper."

Barrans says Abedini is being held in Evin Prison, which is notoriously brutal. "We are very concerned about his health and physical safety. He has shown physical signs of abuse. He has admitted to abuse, that being at the hands of the guards there in Evin, and also at his cellmates [hands]. He has said that many of his cellmates are self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda members."

The ACLJ says Abedini has been indicted and could face the death penalty. However, Barrans says her group was able to help in the release of another pastor imprisoned in Iran, crediting a huge international outcry by media and grassroots organizations. She hopes that can work again.

"It's such a powerful tool, especially on countries like Iran, who responds to embarrassment," said Barrans.

According to the State Department, Iran's Constitution protects minority religions like Christianity and Judaism, but the country's laws and policies severely restrict freedom of religion.

The ACLJ recommends people who want to get involved call their senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., or contact the State Department.

The group is also collecting signatures for an online petition.

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