Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2013 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 3,000 people used social media on Nov. 21 to call for the release of a pastor imprisoned in Iran, as part of a new campaign to support the pastor, a U.S. citizen and convert to Christianity.
“This represents a tremendous outpouring of concern for Pastor Saeed,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, in a statement.
“It is clear that the power of social media is significant and that thousands of people want to send a message directly to the leadership in Iran: free Pastor Saeed – he is no threat to the security of Iran.”
Pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since September 2012. Charged with threatening national security, he has been sentenced to eight years in jail, although religious freedom advocates argue that his Christian faith is actually responsible for his arrest.
Raised a Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying a U.S. citizen. He and his wife lived Idaho with their children.
After his conversion, he worked with house churches in Iran. Although the churches are technically legal, he work drew objections from the Iranian government, and he ended it in 2009. Since that time, he has worked solely with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested during a trip to work with the orphanages.
Originally assigned to Evin Prison in the capital city of Tehran, family members have confirmed that Abedini has been moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. This move has prompted concern due to Rajai Sharhr’s reputation for violent prisoners and brutal guards.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini's wife Naghmeh in the U.S., has been working to raise awareness of the pastor’s plight and increase international pressure on Iran to release him.
A Nov. 21 online media campaign asked supporters to send Twitter messages containing the hashtag "#SaveSaeed" to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, asking them to free Abedini.
The law center confirmed to CNA that 3,500 tweets had been sent by mid-afternoon on the first day of the campaign, and though it started in English, Sekulow announced in a second Nov. 21 press release that “it has been picked up in Iranian media.”
“We hope to see more tweets for Pastor Saeed’s freedom coming from Iranians and people all over the world. These efforts further support that the importance of religious freedom and Pastor Saeed’s freedom is not an issue just for Americans, but the entire world,” he said.
The media campaign is the latest initiative to support the imprisoned pastor. A petition calling for Abedini’s freedom has attracted more than 240,000 signatures, and both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have also asked for his release, along with the U.S. Senate and members of the European Parliament.
Demonstrations of support for the pastor have been held throughout the United States. In addition, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted Nov. 21 on a resolution asking for the quick release of Abedini and calling for the designation of appropriate Iranian officials for human rights abuses as stipulated by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Pastor Abedini has endured beatings, psychological torture and worse because he will not deny his Christian faith,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), senior member of the committee, in a Nov. 20 statement. “He is now in a prison where we are very fearful for his life.”
“The Government of Iran’s actions toward Pastor Abedini violate its promise of safe passage to him in his humanitarian work,” Smith continued.
“But it also violates Iran’s official international commitment to respect religious freedom and due process of law, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – when Iran signs something, Iran should live up to it.”