The wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini says she’s “very encouraged” by Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for Iran to release Abedini from prison.
Kerry released the statement while traveling in the Middle East with President Obama.
“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws,” Kerry’s statement said.
“I am also troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini’s case and Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran. I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” the statement said.
The high-level intervention, should it actually produce results, may be coming just in time.
In a letter Abedini was able to have delivered to his family, he said, "I did not recognize myself."
"My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown," Abedini wrote on scraps of newspaper – the only paper available.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow says he can't say how the letter made it out of the prison for security reasons.
Abedini was given the eight-year sentence for "activities against the state." Since he was confined, the ACLJ's sources have given regular reports of the pastor's precarious health situation.
Sekulow confirms that Abedini's condition is a major issue.
"Pastor Saeed's health has been of grave concern for some time now. And now we have just heard from him directly. In a letter he penned to his wife, Naghmeh, Pastor Saeed confirms what we have been told from the beginning – he is facing beatings, torture and isolation on a daily basis," Sekulow said.
He reported the beatings are taking a toll on him, and prison officials are neglecting his condition. Sekulow said.
"After multiple beatings in interrogations at the hands of the radical Islamic regime, Pastor Saeed wrote that the nurse who was supposed to treat injured inmates told him that in our religion (Islam) 'we are not supposed to touch you,' because Christians are unclean," Sekulow said.
"The pastor said that they would not give him the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because he was unclean," Sekulow said.
"We know that his health is fragile. Even with medical treatment, he faces extremely harsh conditions, life-threatening treatment – simply because of his Christian faith," Sekulow said.
The health concerns were also addressed by the U. S. Ambassador to the U.N. Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe in comments made to the U. N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The ambassador called for Iran to release Abedini.
Donahoe also called on the government of Iran "to provide without delay the urgent medical attention Mr. Abedini needs."
Sekulow says that while he's glad for the ambassador's statement, the statement was too long in coming.
"It took a congressional hearing – which the State Department refused to attend – increasing pressure from Congress and the media – meetings with the State Department – and more than 500,000 signatures on our petition calling for Pastor Saeed's release," Sekulow said.
Sekulow says that Abedini's wife, Nagmeh, is understandably concerned about her husband's condition. She testified to a Congressional committee recently that "every day that her husband faces in the notorious Evin prison, is like a death sentence."
"Saeed is a husband and amazing father. The kids and I miss him terribly. Our kids hold onto the hope of seeing their daddy very soon. The truth is we do not know if we will ever speak to him or see him again. Many mornings they wake up and start running around the house and in the yard," Nagmeh said.
"I still do not have the heart to tell them that if we don't do anything, that daddy might never survive the horrific Evin prison. I do not have the heart to tell them of the eight-year sentence. I do hope we can work together to bring Saeed home and I will never have to tell my kids of the dire situation their father is in," Nagmeh said.
Sekulow says there is a glimmer of hope coming out of Iran.
"There's some hopeful information coming out of our sources in Iran. We have learned that Pastor Saeed, who has been suffering from internal bleeding from the beatings and torture he has received from his captors, has been examined by a doctor at the prison," Sekulow said.
"We are also told that he will be taken to a hospital outside the prison for treatment. But, with all promises made by Iran – we are hopeful – but need promises backed up with action. We will continue to monitor that situation through our sources in Iran," Sekulow said.