If you don’t know his story well, you’re probably familiar with his name. Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-American pastor, father, and husband from Boise, Idaho (he became an American citizen in 2010). He was arrested on July 28, 2012, during a visit to Tehran to see family and finalize plans for an orphanage he was helping build. Charged with proselytizing his Christian faith, Abedini is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran. He was recently transferred from their notorious political prison, Evin, to a more obscure, dangerous prison, Rajaei Shahr, then apparently back. Since his imprisonment two years ago, he has been subjected to multiple beatings and subsequently suffered multiple internal injuries due to the abuse. After suffering for a year, he was finally allowed to go to a hospital, although he was returned to prison before he could receive the treatment he desperately needed.
This case is anything but absent from the radar of the American (and Iranian) governments. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and multiple mainstream news programs have discussed the need for Abedini’s release. The ACLJ has argued this case in front of the United Nations; it’s been granted two hearings in our own House of Representatives. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Abedini’s release, among other leaders. Even at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, President Obama mentioned the plight of Abedini, and supposedly he has discussed Abedinia with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani; but Obama has not publicly called out Iran and asked—could we hope he would demand?—the release of an American unjustly imprisoned.
It’s Outrageous Our Leaders Are Letting Foreigners Imprison an American Citizen
Recently in an interview CNN aired, when the reporter mentioned Abedini to the Iranian foreign minister, he mentioned—absent-mindedly and apathetically—the possibility that Abedini could, under international law, be granted clemency. This would be ideal for Iran: It does not remove Abedini’s charges but simply grants him release. Let’s admit: It’s the best we could hope to expect from Iran.
What about Iran? What about their desire for a deal on nuclear warfare? What about keeping our foreign relations steady? No one wants to provoke a volatile country like Iran. But in a case like this, the issue of foreign relations is that there isn’t one: Saeed Abedini may have an Iranian-sounding name, but he is an American citizen. Sending Kerry to ask for Abedini’s release is like sending a Girl Scout Troop to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes in football. The president himself needs to claim Abedini as our own and demand his immediate release. End of story.
In a letter to Rouhani, Sen. Rand Paul wrote: “I wish to remain cautiously optimistic regarding the recent diplomatic progress between our two nations. However, I must point out that if something were to happen to Pastor Abedini while he is incarcerated, any good will forged over the past few months would likely evaporate. Conversely, granting clemency to Pastor Abedini and allowing him to return to the United States would do much to create a positive atmosphere that would reflect well on future discussions.”
Imagine if Venezuela were holding captive Muhammad Saleem, an Iraqi-turned-American citizen who practices Islam and lives in Texas. Would we really let him rot in a Venezuelan prison, festering wounds and all?
On Wednesday, President Obama visited Abedini’s hometown in Boise. After repeated requests for a brief visit, Abedini’s wife Naghmeh was finally granted a few minutes of face time with the president to plead her husband’s cause, request he stand up for injustice, defend the rights of American citizens, and demand her husband’s immediate release. Hopefully, he takes heed.
As for the rest of us, instead of narcissists like Amber Heard trending in social media because she posed for photos in nearly nothing, why don’t we for once, as a collective social media campaign, trend issues that are at once freedom-threatening and life-altering: #FreeSaeed. You can sign the petition to demand for justice for our fellow American here.