Today marks the “Grand Day of Death to America” in Iran – the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover – and one American pastor held captive in Iran is facing an immediate threat to his life.
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor from Idaho who visited Iran to assist in building an orphanage, has been imprisoned for more than a year simply because of his Christian faith. Initially held in Evin Prison – where Iran holds hundreds of political prisoners – he’s been abused and pressed to sign “confessions” and convert to Islam. Showing courage few American Christians can comprehend, he’s steadfastly refused to “confess” (to crimes he didn’t commit) or convert.
At the American Center for Law and Justice, we represent Pastor Abedini’s family and have worked closely with members of Congress, the administration, and countries in the European Union and beyond to bring pressure on the Iranian regime. These efforts culminated not merely in a series of strong congressional statements and statements from Europe but also in the president of the United States directly addressing Pastor Saeed’s plight with Iran’s president Rouhani.
While these developments raised hopes for Pastor Saeed’s release, today brought devastating news. As the Revolutionary Guard appears to be flexing its muscles, Pastor Saeed was transferred from Evin Prison (which is brutal enough) to Rajai Shahr prison outside Tehran. Here’s how a Dutch diplomat described Rajai Shahr:
Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.
In other words, Pastor Saeed – an American citizen — may be about to become one of the “disappeared.”
It’s time for President Obama to reengage, to declare definitively that Iran cannot kill an American — either directly or indirectly by knowingly placing him in direct proximity to murderers. Pastor Saeed is “guilty” of nothing but Christianity, and that should not be a capital crime for anyone – least of all one of our own.