American pastor on trial in Iran

By January 18, 2013

Iran (MNN) — An American pastor is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith and facing trial next week, according to Voice of the Martyrs, Canada’s Persecution and Prayer Alert.

Saeed Abedini, 32, is scheduled to go in front of one of Iran’s “hanging judges” on January 21, says Fox News.

Some sources connected to religious rights watchdog groups are hesitant to comment until they can verify details.

Abedini was born in Iran but became an American citizen in 2010 when he married an American, Naghmeh Abedini. Fox states charges against him in court documents are related to Abedini’s start of a house church movement in Iran.

According to VOMC’s Prayer Alert, the house church movement had about 100 churches with more than 2,000 members in 30 Iranian cities. Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, said, “"It was just growing so fast…. [Governmental leaders] see the underground churches as a threat and Christianity as a tool from the West to undermine them."

Pastor Abedini’s attorney was only recently allowed to see the court file, according to The Christian Post. Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, stated, “It is an outrage that Pastor Saeed's trial date and charge against him would be withheld from his legal counsel until less than a week before the trial itself. Not only is Iran violating Pastor Saeed's fundamental freedom of religion, but it is making a mockery of justice.”

Decipherable charges seem to come from the year 2000 when Abedini converted to Christianity, according to statements from his attorney to advocacy group American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) as reported by Fox. Eight years later, he became an ordained minister.

In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Naghmeh said, “When he became a Christian, he became a criminal in his own country. His passion was to reach the people of Iran.”

According to The Christian Post, the judge handling Abedini’s case was marked in 2011 as subject to sanctions by the European Union for sentencing human rights activists to death and violating human rights.

Details are difficult to confirm since Iran is such a closed off country, ranking in 8th place on the Open Doors World Watch List for persecution of Christians. But Abedini’s wife and two young children are still in the United States.

The Iranian government refuses to recognize Abedini’s American citizenship. But up until now, he’s been allowed to freely travel between the two countries. Fox News says in a letter to his wife, Abedini described the torture he’s endured in prison.

“This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie), and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus,” Abedini wrote. “One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.”

Abedini was imprisoned in September 2012 when members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard pulled him off a bus placed him under house arrest. His wife told Fox that they subjected him to intense interrogation, confiscated his passports, and placed him under house arrest.

Naghmeh explained then on September 26, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard invaded Abedini’s parent’s home, arrested Abedini, confiscated communication devices, and placed his family — also Christian converts — under house arrest.

For a time after his transfer to prison, Naghmen says Abedini was denied an attorney and brutally beaten by prison guards. Some of Abedini’s cell mates who identify themselves as al-Qaeda members also beat him severely.

Two days before the home raid, Naghmeh says she got a call on her cellphone in the U.S. and received a threat saying she would “never see him again.”

Naghmeh told Fox that Abedini was recruited as a former Muslim in high school for suicide bomber training. But he fell into depression as he went deeper into his training. “Christianity saved his life,” Naghmeh said.

According to The Christian Post, the ACLJ claims Iranian authorities have confiscated over $105,000 in donations given to Abedini for an orphanage project that were residing in an Iranian bank account.

The U.S. State Department recently stated they have “serious concerns” for Abedini’s imprisonment, but have not motioned to call for his immediate release. However, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has joined calls for Abedini’s release, according to The Christian Post.

"It's hardest on the kids," Naghmeh told Fox. "Saeed was a stay-at-home dad. My daughter said she is forgetting Daddy's voice, and she asked me, 'Do you think he has a beard now?' I didn't even think of that. She keeps playing the home videos over and over. It's the hardest at night because he had a night routine with them when he would read them books and tuck them in. They miss that the most."

Sign the petition with ACLJ for Pastor Abedini’s release. The petition already has over 123,000 signatures.

Pray for international pressure to result in Abedini’s release as it did with the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pray for Pastor Abedini to stand strong in his testimony of faith in God and for his family.

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