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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has renewed calls for the Iranian government to release American citizen Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor serving an eight-year sentence on religion-related charges.
“The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help U.S. citizens,” Secretary Kerry asked in an Aug. 29 press release, to “return to their families after lengthy detentions.”
“These men belong at home with those who love them and miss them.”
In his statement, Kerry also asked for the release and location of Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson, who are detained and missing in the country as well.
The secretary of state explained that as of September 26, “Mr. Abedini will have spent a year in detention in Iran. He was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.”
Born in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and obtained U.S. citizenship after marrying a U.S. citizen. The pastor lived with his wife and their two children in Idaho. He was arrested in 2012 during a visit to Iran to work with non-religious orphanages in the country.
Until 2009, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran, an action that drew opposition from the government, despite being technically legal. As a result of government objection, he switched his work to the non-religious orphanages.
Following his arrest, Abedini was charged with posing a threat to national security for his earlier work with the churches. He is now serving an eight-year sentence in Iran’s Evin Prison, and has reportedly been faced with brutal beatings, attempts to make him renounce his faith, and insufficient medical attention.
On Aug. 26, it was announced that Abedini’s appeal for a reduction in his sentence’s length was denied.
Kerry noted that Hassan Rouhani, the newly-elected Iranian president who took office Aug. 3, “has shared in his speeches and interviews over the past few months his hope and vision to improve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship with the world.”
Kerry asked that in light of this wish, Rouhani urge the government to release the prisoners “so that they may be reunited with their families as safely and as soon as possible.”
Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, said in a statement that she is “very thankful for the statement that Secretary of State John Kerry made to Iran regarding Saeed's immediate return to our family.”
She added that she hopes “that the State Department is truly willing explore all avenues to secure my husband’s release.”
She mentioned, however that while “I am pleased with this development,” she hopes that President Obama will “speak out on this very critical human rights issue and let the Iranian government and the world know that religious freedom is still a top priority for our government.”
“President Obama must demonstrate that America will not stay silent in the face of religious persecution, nor will it let an American citizen waste away in an Iranian prison simply because he chose to follow Jesus.”
Originally published at Catholic News Agency on 1 September 2013. Used with permission. All other rights reserved.