Letters, prayer vigils to mark one year in jail for pastor in Iran

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2013 / 02:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Supporters of human rights and religious freedom around the globe are joining in prayer and a letter-writing campaign on the one-year anniversary of Iranian imprisonment for Christian pastor Saeed Abedini.

 “My wife and children as well as over a billion Christians in the world seek God's justice and then your consideration of this matter,” Abedini – who is a U.S. citizen – wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who took office last month.

“Please take immediate action in this regard and do not let me and a lot of people in my ward become the victims of the fire that extremists have made, those who have turned Iran into a vortex of crisis.”

He added that “considering the fact that I came to Iran to serve the orphans, please do not let them make my children orphans and my wife without a guardian.”

Sept. 26 will mark the first anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment in Iran’s Evin Prison on charges of threatening national security. Human rights groups, however, contend that the pastor’s Christian faith is the real reason for his eight-year sentence.

The one-year anniversary will be commemorated with prayer vigils for the pastor’s release, held throughout the world and across the U.S., including in Washington, D.C., and Boise, Idaho, where Abedini lived with his wife and two children before his arrest.

Raised Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying a U.S. citizen.

After his conversion, he worked with house churches throughout Iran until 2009, when the government raised objections, despite the fact that the churches are technically legal in the country. Since then, human rights groups say that the pastor has worked solely with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested in the fall of 2012 during a visit to one of these orphanages.

While in prison, Abedini has reported suffering beatings and a number of internal and external injuries due to his treatment. He had sought an appeal of his conviction, which was denied, leaving his eight-year sentence in place.

In his letter, the pastor asked Rouhani to act upon promises to promote moderation within the government.

“I hope the person who has sworn to protect the rights of citizens and practice the Constitution, issues the required instructions and orders for reviewing my case” according to Iranian law, Abedini said.

He emphasized that in writing the letter, he was “not politically motivated for claiming these things, but am humanly and religiously motivated because God, whom we regard to own and manage the universe commanded us all – Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians to seek justice.”

He noted that that “he and other fellow prisoners have been denied minimum legal rights in the detention, interrogation and prosecution processes,” and voiced hope that the government would “amend the unfair rulings of the recent years” for political prisoners.

The letter begins a new campaign for concerned individuals to call on Rouhani urging Abedini’s release. The “Be Heard Project” is organized by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, in the U.S.

The legal center has gathered signatures from more than 623,000 people who are asking for the pastor’s release.

“Every minute, every day Saeed is apart from us is more excruciating than the next,” Naghmeh said in a Sept. 16 statement. “Now, I am faced with the painful realization that our kids are growing up without their father. We are praying for a miracle just to be able to see him again.”

“In a week from now, the president of Iran will be on U.S. soil,” she added, saying that she wondered “whether my government will use this opportunity to appeal directly to President Rouhani for the release of my husband.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has issued two statements on Abedini's situation, asking for his release, though President Obama has not yet spoken on the prisoner’s behalf.

“I hope President Obama will break his deafening silence and speak out for my husband. But I also ask that everyone join me in appealing directly to President Rouhani by writing letters urging him to release Saeed,” Naghmeh asked.

The latest round of appeals for Abedini comes amid reports that Iran chose to free 11 political prisoners Sept. 18. Among them was Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer who was held in Evin Prison along with Abedini.

According to The Guardian, Iran holds nearly 800 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including lawyers, journalists, feminists, and followers of Christianity, Baha'i, and Sunni Islam.

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