Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has been held by Iranian authorities since his arrest last September while visiting his family in Iran, according to the ACLJ. A convert from Islam and an ordained evangelical pastor, Abedini helped lead underground house churches in Iran before moving to the U.S. in 2005.
The 32-year-old husband and father of two reportedly is awaiting trial at the infamous Evin prison, in northwestern Tehran, on charges that have not been made public but appear to be related to his faith.
In a letter to his family, a copy of which was released by the ACLJ, Abedini wrote, “This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my family and kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.”
Earlier this week the ACLJ said it had learned that Abedini’s case had been referred to a judge notorious for handing down the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences to human rights activists convicted after the disputed 2009 presidential election.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2012 annual report identified the judge, Abbas Pir-Abbassi, as one of three Islamic Revolutionary Court judges “responsible for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
He is also subject to European Union sanctions. A 2011 E.U. document says Pir-Abbassi “is in charge of post-election cases, he issued long prison sentences during unfair trials against human rights activists and has issued several death sentences for protesters.”
“The life of Pastor Saeed is in grave danger,” ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow said Thursday. “When you read Pastor Saeed’s own words, you understand that Iran has absolutely no regard for human rights and religious freedom.”
“And now facing one of Iran’s most notorious judges, Pastor Saeed is in a real sense an American abandoned in Iran,” Sekulow added. “The U.S. State Department has done very little to help this U.S. citizen. We continue to press the Obama administration to engage this case – to speak out forcefully on Pastor Saeed’s behalf and put pressure on Iran’s allies to free this American. Time is of the essence.”
“We are aware of this case, and we are in contact with the individual’s family in the United States,” a State Department official told CNSNews.com on Thursday. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further details to share.”
More than 65,000 people have signed an ACLJ petition urging the State Department, Congress and the United Nations to demand Abedini’s release.
According to the ACLJ Saeed was granted U.S. citizenship in 2010 through marriage to his American wife, Naghmeh. They have a six year-old daughter and a four year-old son.
In the run-up to Christmas, several U.S. faith organizations launched a campaign urging Christians to leave an empty place setting at their Christmas dinners to remember Abedini and other believers persecuted around the world.
In his letter from prison, Abedini wrote that he was moved to tears when he heard about the campaign.
“I was able to share about this with other prisoners and they were shocked by the love and support we have for each other in Jesus. I told them how in the Bible we are all considered brothers and sisters (despite race, color or nationality) and we are to share in each other’s pains.”
In its most recent travel advisory on Iran, the State Department on December 7 warned American citizens “to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.”
“Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States. As a result, U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran,” it said.
“Iranian authorities have detained and harassed U.S. citizens of Iranian origin. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and prosecution.”