Representatives of the U. S. State Department were nowhere to be found as the U. S. House Lantos Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is being held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Commission Co-Chair Frank Wolf, R-Va., made note of the State Department’s absence.
“There is one notable absence unfortunately and that is the Department of State. I was amazed that a hearing that was called to highlight the plight of religious minorities in Iran, not to mention the imprisonment of one of our own citizens, was not deemed important enough by the State Department to cooperate with Congress,” Wolf said.
In January, an Iranian judge sentenced Abedini, who was born in Iran, to eight years in prison for engaging in evangelism. A convert from Islam, he made frequent trips to Iran to help lead a network of house churches.
Speaking before the commission, Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh, told committee members that she’s deeply saddened by the lack of interest the U. S. government is showing in her husband’s case.
“I must tell you that I am disappointed with my government. I am disappointed that our president and our State Department have not fully engaged this case – disappointed that this great country is not doing more to free my husband, a U.S. citizen,” Nagmeh Abedini said.
She continued: “I expect more from our government. We should know that as American citizens, our government will stand up for us. I have been told that I have not requested the assistance of the State Department. That is not the case. I have pleaded many times for their help to free my husband. I continue to ask our government to bring my husband, my children’s father, back home.”
American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said the State Department’s absence is without excuse.
“The State Department today was a no-show – AWOL – absent without leave. The failure of our government to attend and speak out forcefully on behalf of this U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran is deeply troubling,” Sekulow said. “Today’s absence sadly reflects what has been a lack of engagement by our State Department.”
Sekulow noted that most of the Western world has denounced Iran for its imprisonment of the 34-year-old American pastor.
“Just days ago, while many nations – including the European Union – cited Pastor Saeed’s case by name – calling on Iran to release this Christian – the U.S. government remained silent. With a critical opportunity on the world’s diplomatic stage, the U.S. government never mentioned Pastor Saeed’s name,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow noted Nagmeh’s testimony.
“It is both disappointing and discouraging that Pastor Saeed’s wife, who told the commission that she has repeatedly requested assistance from our government, had to plead again today for her own government to do more to secure Pastor Saeed’s freedom,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow says he’s pleased that at least a member of Congress is showing concern for Abedini and his family.
“We are grateful for the comments from Chairman Rep. Frank Wolf and other lawmakers, including Rep. Chris Smith, who expressed their deep concern and support for Pastor Saeed,” Sekulow said.
“We’re also grateful for the concerns they raised about the lack of involvement by our State Department. Following the testimony today, Rep. Wolf said he would talk with Secretary Kerry directly and urge him to engage this case and send a representative to meet directly with Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh,” Sekulow said.
Speaking before the commission, Wolf saluted another member of Congress.
“I want to specially thank my colleague, Trent Franks, who’s not here today, for his leadership in religious freedom issues and particularly in the case of Pastor Abedini,” Wolf said. “Congressman Franks initiated, and I think he should get all of the credit, a congressional sign-on letter that generated over 80 signatures (from members of Congress) on behalf of Pastor Abedini.”
Sekulow charged that the U.S. government isn’t doing what it can to bring about the pastor’s release.
“The truth is more can and should be done by our own government on Pastor Saeed’s behalf. Secretary Kerry and President Obama can truly elevate this serious abuse of Pastor Saeed’s religious freedom and his human rights,” Sekulow said.
“By speaking out, and fully engaging this disturbing case, Secretary Kerry and President Obama could put the full weight and power of the U.S. government to secure Pastor Saeed’s freedom. Pastor Saeed is a U.S. citizen. He deserves nothing less,” Sekulow said.
Abedini was arrested in September on his return to Iran to do missionary work with the orphanages he helped establish.
WND reported in February that Abedini was being tortured, and American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow was concerned about the pastor’s future.
“We are concerned about the fate of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is facing eight years in a brutal Iranian prison because of his Christian faith,” Sekulow said. “We know that his health is not good. We know that he continues to be beaten and tortured in prison. And, we know that he is being subjected to psychological abuse now as well.”
Further, ACLJ spokesman Gene Kapp said the pastor is being denied phone contact with the outside.
“Iranian officials refuse to permit Pastor Saeed to communicate with his family via phone and have been pushing propaganda to try and convince him that efforts to secure his freedom have ceased,” Kapp said.
The mission group Asia Harvest denounced the sentence in a statement on its website.
“He was convicted on charges of starting house churches throughout Iran in the early 2000s. Friends, an eight-year prison sentence in that demonic prison is basically a death sentence. Many people who go into Evin Prison only last a few days or weeks before they perish,” Asia Harvest said.
The ACLJ said Abedini’s lawyers have filed an appeal of his conviction, but there’s no timetable expected for action.