The Corner

An American Pastor on Trial in Iran: Where’s the Obama Administration?

Back in December, I posted about an American pastor, Saeed Abedini, imprisoned and abused in Iran. The Revolutionary Guard seized him and held him in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons, accusing him of unspecified “national security” crimes. Before becoming an American citizen, Pastor Saeed converted from Islam to Christianity and had participated in Tehran’s very small house-church movement. Ordered to stop his work with the hous- church movement, he moved to Idaho but continued humanitarian work in Iran — most recently by raising money to build an orphanage.

Last September, Iranian authorities raided his family home, ransacked it, and confiscated all religious materials. They carted Pastor Saeed off to jail, beat him there, held him for months without charges, denied his bail, and confiscated every dollar he’d raised to build the orphanage. A few weeks ago, Iran finally defined the charges against him — claiming his work in the house churches more than a decade ago undermined Iran’s national security. Pastor Saeed’s show trial began yesterday.

I call it a “show trial” because his lawyer was only given access to Pastor Saeed 24 hours before the trial began, today he’s been shut out of the proceedings entirely, and he’s been repeatedly denied bail in spite of misleading Iranian media reports to the contrary. Iran’s actions not only violate its international commitments (it’s a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), they also violate its own constitution (which, believe it or not, guarantees the pastor the freedom to practice his faith). Forty-nine Members of Congress have signed letters urging the State Department to “exhaust all efforts” to secure his release.  

Yet the administration appears to have done virtually nothing. In fact, it exerted greater effort on behalf of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam, than it has thus far on behalf of an American citizen.  

And pressure does make a difference. In the case of Pastor Youcef, we received clear reports from Iran that the combination of a lively social-media campaign and concerted diplomatic pressure convinced Iran to lift its execution order and release Youcef. We at the ACLJ are doing all we can to bring pressure through the media (Fox News has been invaluable) and other diplomatic sources, but the State Department and White House — even despite our lack of diplomatic relations with Iran — could ramp up diplomatic pressure exponentially. In fact, since Pastor Saeed is an American citizen, the administration should take the lead role in his public and diplomatic defense. Yet it is largely silent. Why?

I pray it’s because State is working effectively behind the scenes, but I’m skeptical that’s the case. Unfortunately, it seems as if the administration is becoming disturbingly proficient at leaving Americans behind.

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