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Release Imprisoned Pastor, Congressional Hearing Urges Iran

Naghmeh Abedini

Catholic News Agency - published on 01/02/14

“If this administration does not hold Iran accountable then no one will,” a congresswoman said.

A congressional hearing about Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran, produced more calls for his speedy release and warnings that his situation reflects Iran’s continued poor human rights record.

“The plight of Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment is not isolated, but is symptomatic of the Iranian regime’s hostility to religious minorities,” warned Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

She co-sponsored the joint Dec. 12 hearing titled “Iran’s Persecution of American Pastor Abedini.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs a House subcommittee that includes global human rights issues, stressed the urgency of the pastor’s case.

“Time is running out,” he warned, noting the brutal conditions facing Abedini and other prisoners in Iran, including a denial of basic medical care.

Rep. Smith cautioned that the U.S. government “must not waste another opportunity to secure the release of Pastor Abedini.” He asked that the pastor’s release “be front and center in the next round of U.S.-Iranian negotiations.”

Pastor Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since September 2012. The Iranian government has charged him with compromising national security. The pastor’s supporters say he is being imprisoned for his Christian beliefs.

He was arrested during a visit to help non-religious orphanages in Iran. He shifted to orphanage work in 2009 after previously working with legal house churches until government authorities objected to his work.

Abedini, who was born in Iran and raised as a Muslim, converted to Christianity in 2000. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010 following his marriage to his wife Naghmeh, who is also a U.S. citizen.

He has now been moved to a prison with a reputation for having brutal guards and violent prisoners.

At the Dec. 12 hearing, several speakers called for Iran to protect human rights, especially religious freedom.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen criticized Iran’s government.

“This is a country that won’t respect other freedoms,” she said. While Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani promised a more open and tolerant government, “it has utterly failed” to protect human rights.

She said that executions have “accelerated,” reaching 300 since August alone.

“If this administration does not hold Iran accountable then no one will,” the congresswoman stated.

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Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastIranPolitics
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