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444 Days in Iran: Pastor Saeed Still in Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

12/12/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) continues to call for the release of American-Iranian Saeed Abedini. December 12th marks 444 days since Saeed was taken to an Iranian prison, simply because of his Christian faith. Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) co-chaired a joint subcommittee hearing on Iran’s continued persecution of Pastor Saeed. The dangers that Saeed faces in the brutal prison are real and it is crucial that the American people and the American government remain fully engaged to see this father and husband brought home to his family.

Representative Smith said in his opening remarks, “Saeed’s case must be front and center in the next series of diplomatic talks with Iran. Time is running out. Naghmeh, Jacob, and Rebekka need their husband and father home. Now!”

It was 444 days ago that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took Saeed from house arrest, where he had been detained since July 28, 2012. On September 26th, he was transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison. As his wife, Naghmeh, stated in her testimony to the hearing, “To learn he had been put in Evin Prison brought flashbacks of family members and friends who had been executed, raped, and tortured in Evin.” On January 27th, after a sham trial, Saeed was sentenced to eight years in prison. What was the reason for his imprisonment? He was arrested for “peaceful gatherings of Christians, which the regime views as an act of war,” Naghmeh told the hearing today.

Since his arrest, Pastor Saeed’s case has received significant attention from the national and international media, by members of Congress, and even, on occasion, from Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama. While Pastor Saeed has been in prison in Iran, the level of diplomatic engagement between the two countries is at its highest point since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, when 52 Americans were also held for 444 days.

Despite face-to-face negotiations with Iran at the highest level, Pastor Saeed remains in prison. Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) voiced a view held by many of the members of the panel, “If they cannot release individuals and others held without due process then how are we to trust them on greater issues?” The view was echoed by Representative Smith, “How can we trust a signature on a piece of paper when they treat an American citizen in such a brutal way?”

The lack of trust and transparency was a theme addressed both by members of the committee and by the witnesses who testified. Representative Ros-Lehtinen said, “We must judge the Iranian regime, not on words, but on actions.” She continued, “On the campaign trail they promised reforms on human rights, but these have not happened.” Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, vice-chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, testified, “The number of Christians and Bahais imprisoned during his [President Rouhani] short tenure has increased, and there has been a crackdown on Protestant Christians.” Daniel Calingaert, Executive Vice President of Freedom House, testified that there have already been a reported 668 executions in Iran this year, and the rate increased after President Rouhani’s took office in August.

It is imperative that the United States government continue to press for the release of Saeed. There can be no more “missed opportunities” such as the latest rounds of negotiations in Geneva where Naghmeh said, “I felt abandoned as an American citizen that Saeed’s release was not a pre-condition for negotiations.” Representative Smith addressed these talks saying, “Every conversation with Iran should have begun with Saeed Abedini and should have ended with Saeed Abedini.”

Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We urge the United States government to redouble its efforts to secure the immediate and unconditional release of American citizen Saeed Abedini. There should be no further diplomatic negotiations with Iran while they continue to hold American citizens hostage, specifically a man imprisoned for exercising his most fundamental right. Saeed’s life is in imminent danger and 444 days is far too long for this family to be separated, simply because of his beliefs. We urge the Iranian government – and President Hassan Rouhanı – to free this father and husband.

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For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org

You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address, www.persecution.org. ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church.

For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.

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