WASHINGTON — Christian pastor Saeed Abedini’s sentence of eight years in prison by an Iranian judge for allegedly threatening local security with his leadership of house churches has been met with harsh criticism.
“This is a real travesty — a mockery of justice,” said Jordan Sekulow, the director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini’s family living in the U.S.
“Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.”
On Jan. 27 judge Pir-Abassi of the Iranian Revolutionary Court convicted and verbally sentenced Abedini.
His trial began Jan. 21, and both Abedini and his attorney were allowed to attend only one day. His sentence was approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
Nasser Sarbazi, Abedini’s attorney, defended his Christian activities the single day he was allowed at the trial. He argued they do not threaten Iran’s national security, and are motivated not by politics but by religion.
Abedini is a native of Iran, but has United States citizenship. He was granted citizenship in 2010 through marriage to his American wife.
“Here’s the troubling reality,” Sekulow added. “We have a U.S. citizen, who has been beaten and tortured since him imprisonment last fall, now facing eight years in Evin Prison, one of the most brutal prisons in Iran. A harsh sentence in a notorious prison — likely facing life-threatening torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime.”
The U.S. state department stated at a Jan. 25 press briefing that “we remain very concerned” about Abedini, and about “the fairness and transparency of his trial.”
“We condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal rights of freedom of religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini’s human rights and to release him. We are in close contact with his family as well and we’re actively engaged in the case.”
Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000, and in 2008 became an evangelical pastor.
Iran had demanded that he stop working with house churches. Though they are technically legal, the regime claims that he had tried to turn young Iranians from Islam, the state religion.
Abedini agreed to this restriction in 2009, moving his focus from churches to non-religious orphanages. Despite this, he was arrested in September while on a trip to work with these orphanages and to visit his family.
On Jan. 21 a semi-official Iranian news agency stated Abedini would be released for a $116,000 bail, but this proved to be false.
“The promise of his release was a lie,” said Naghmeh, Abedini’s wife. “We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government.”
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.