Iran Deal a 'Betrayal' of American Pastor Jailed for His Christian Faith
(CNSNews.com) - A conservative civil liberties group on Sunday accused the Obama administration of betraying an American pastor jailed in Iran for practicing his Christian faith.
“President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry turned their backs on a U.S. citizen by refusing to secure his freedom before reaching an agreement with Iran,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
“It is outrageous and a betrayal of American Pastor Saeed Abedini who has spent more than a year in an Iranian prison simply because of his Christian faith. The Obama Administration has left Pastor Saeed behind. And by failing to secure his release as a precondition to any negotiations, the Obama Administration sends a troubling message to the Iranian government that Americans are expendable.”
The deal with Iran, announced Sunday, requires as a "first step" that the Islamic Republic freeze its nuclear program for six months while the two sides work on a more permanent deal curbing Iran's development of nuclear technology. In exchange, some sanctions against Iran will be eased, and Iran will get access to some frozen overseas assets, including $4.2 billion in oil revenue, the Associated Press reported.
Abedini, a 33-year-old American citizen from Boise, Idaho, converted from Islam to become an ordained evangelical pastor. He was arrested while visiting with relatives in Iran 14 months ago and convicted on charges of “crimes against national security.” He received an eight-year prison sentence in January.
Concerns heightened earlier this month, when Abedini was moved to one of Iran's harshest prisons.
“Pastor Saeed has been placed in a 3m by 3m cell (approximately 10ft by 10ft) with five other inmates in the ward reserved for murderers and rapists,” Sekulow wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to President Obama, urging him to speak out “directly and forcefully” to save the pastor’s life. Sekulow said Abedini’s transfer to such an environment “appears designed to afford the Iranian regime political cover should Pastor Saeed be either severely injured or killed by fellow inmates.”
On Nov. 22, 2013, before the deal with Iran was announced, the ACLJ sent a letter to Kerry, reminding him that Iran has "utterly ignored President Obama’s demand for Mr. Abedini’s release, and that making a deal with Iran without securing Abedini's freedom would send "the unmistakable message that the United States will not protect its own citizens even when dealing directly with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Sekulow told Kerry that “the failure to secure the release and return of Mr. Abedini" -- and other Americans held by Iran -- "would be reprehensible."
At his confirmation hearing last January, Kerry was asked about Abedini's plight by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
In a written response to Rubio, Kerry said he is “deeply concerned” about Abedini and he noted that Abedini's attorney had only one day to present his client's defense.
“I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him,” Kerry said. “The Department of State is in close contact with the Abedini family and is actively engaged on this case.”
And in a September phone conversation with the President Rouhani of Iran, President Obama "noted our concern about three American citizens who have been held within Iran -- Robert Levinson, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Hekmati -- and noted our interest in seeing those Americans reunited with their families," a senior White House official told reporters on Sept. 27.
The ACLJ represents Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, and their two children.