An Iranian-born American pastor who holds dual citizenship is sitting behind bars in Iran’s Evin prison after being arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested shortly after arriving in Iran in September to visit his parents. Reports of his arrest didn’t become known until this past week.
Abedini’s captors have refused to disclose the charges, but the American Center for Law and Justice says that the prison is “especially brutal” and that he’s in jail because he formerly ran a network of house churches while he still lived in Iran.
Press reports indicate that he was going back to Iran to continue his work building an orphanage.
The Iranian government doesn’t recognize dual citizenship and has said they have no obligation to honor any diplomatic inquiries from the U. S. government.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow says the arrest is typical of Iran’s regime.
“Iran has commonly employed intimidation tactics to stop the spread of Christianity and the growth of the underground house church,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow adds that the pastor’s status makes him a target: “Pastor Saeed is a dual citizen of both Iran and the United States, but unfortunately, Iran does not recognize Pastor Saeed’s U.S. citizenship. The government does know, however, that in the past, thousands of Iranians have looked to Pastor Saeed as a leader of those who convert from Islam to Christianity.”
He adds that the Iranian government is hoping to make an example of the pastor: “By throwing him in prison under the threat of a long prison sentence, and possibly death, Iran knows that it can intimidate those who followed Pastor Saeed’s leadership.”
After picking up Abedini, the government is turning their sights on his former congregations.
“Since detaining Pastor Saeed, the government has sought out congregants of the underground house church network he used to lead,” Sekulow claims. “Many of these congregants have been interrogated and threatened. In essence, through intimidation, Iran hopes to strangle the growing underground house churches.”
Sekulow adds that it’s possible that Iran’s regime could use the pastor as leverage for a political deal.
“While we hope that Pastor Saeed will not become a political bargaining chip for Iran, we recognize that Iran has in the past used American prisoners as such,” Sekulow said. “Iran also knows, however, that it is currently on very thin ice diplomatically with many of its trade partners, and exposing its flagrant violations of human rights to the world could crack the ice.”
Sekulow adds that he’s hopeful that Pastor Saeed doesn’t become an extension of the situation with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor held for over 1,000 days. He adds that the episode does speak volumes about the true nature of Iran’s government.
“Like Pastor Youcef, Pastor Saeed’s arrest, detention and now charges show the true character of Iran to be a country that is willing to violate the fundamental rights of man,” Sekulow said. “The world needs to awaken to this abuse and cry out for justice.”