WASHINGTON — An American citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith has been barred from attending his own trial and faces serious danger, warned a legal team monitoring his case.
“Iran has continued its lies and disinformation campaign to deflect attention from its abuse of this U.S. citizen for his faith,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
In a series of Jan. 21-23 blog posts, Sekulow cautioned that Iran is trying to punish 32-year-old pastor Saeed Abedini for his Christian beliefs.
The Iranian-born pastor has been charged with attempting to undermine national security by helping to create Christian house churches in the country. Although such churches are technically legal, the regime claims that the pastor has tried to turn young people in Iran away from the national religion of Islam.
According to Sekulow, the court’s evidence stemmed back to the year 2000, when Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity.
He explained that Iran had demanded that Abedini stop working with these churches. The pastor had agreed, striking a 2009 deal with the regime that allowed him to travel freely in the country if he would give up his work with underground churches. He then turned his focus towards non-religious orphanages.
However, Abedini was arrested last September while on a trip to work with these orphanages and visit his family. He is on trial before a notorious Iranian judge whose harsh sentences have elicited sanctions from the European Union.
Abedini’s lawyer was only allowed to see the court file one week before the Jan. 21 court date, Sekulow said.
Lawyer Also Barred
On the first day of the trial, he explained, the attorney presented a strong defense of the pastor’s Christian activities, arguing that they did not threaten the national security of Iran, but were motivated by religion rather than a political agenda.
The trial continued the next day, Sekulow said, but both Abedini and his lawyer were barred from attending.
The American Center for Law and Justice — which is representing the pastor’s wife and children, who live in the U.S. — said it has confirmed that the court heard the testimony of a lay church leader, who was questioned about Abedini’s conversion and work in the country.
On Jan. 21, a semi-official Iranian news agency stated that Abedini would be released after posting $116,000 bail.
The report was initially circulated by The Associated Press, but was promptly denied by Abedini’s wife, who said that, while the family has presented bail, it has been rejected repeatedly by the regime, which is refusing to drop the charges against her husband.
“This is all a lie by the Iranian media,” she said in a statement provided to the American Center for Law and Justice. “This is a game to silence the international media.”
Sekulow warned that Iran’s actions make it clear that the government “has no intention whatsoever of releasing Pastor Saeed, allowing to him to return to the U.S. or even issuing a verdict any time soon.”
He called Abedini’s treatment “a clear and continued blatant violation of human rights.”
It is unclear when the Iranian judge will give a verdict in the case and what sentence the regime is pursuing against Abedini; however, Sekulow said the pastor could face a lengthy prison sentence or even death. He called for a strong international voice on behalf of Abedini.
Several members of the U.S. House and Senate, along with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, have called for Abedini’s freedom.
In addition, more than 200,000 Americans have signed a petition calling on the U.S. government to engage the Iranian regime, publically condemn the pastor’s imprisonment and call for his release.
“We know from past cases that strong international support is crucial," Sekulow explained, "but the responsibility to support a U.S. citizen starts with our own government.”