The wife of an American pastor who’s been jailed in Iran for one year says she’s grateful that President Obama has finally asked for the release of her imprisoned husband, but vows continued pressure is needed to bring him home.
In a statement to the press, Naghmeh Abedini said Obama’s request is a positive development in her husband Saeed’s saga.
“This is the most encouraging news I have heard since Saeed was imprisoned one year ago. I am very grateful to President Obama for standing up for Saeed and for the other Americans who are held captive in Iran,” Abedini said. “This development is truly an answer to prayer. I urge [Iranian] President Rouhani, as I have done throughout this week, to release Saeed so he can return to our home and our family in the United States. In recent days, Iran has released 80 prisoners being held because of their beliefs. I pray that we can add Saeed to that list very soon.”
In an exclusive interview with WND, Abedini says that she is grateful for everything that has been done to free her husband, but she’s deeply focused on her next steps.
“I plan to keep up the pressure. I plan to take this to the Pope, who’s approached governments, and I plan to continue the pressure and prayer. I believe that will bring about Saeed home before our daughter’s eighth birthday,” Abedini said. “She’s already had two birthdays without him, and I hope she won’t have to have another one without him.”
Abedini believes her campaign of pressure on Iran got a boost from a letter she delivered to the Iranian delegation at the United Nations.
“I handed it to two individuals, and I believe one of them was the actual spokesperson for foreign affairs. When I handed it to them, they were very shocked that I approached them,” Abedini said. “I saw that they were actually reading it and they were all very interested in the letter.
“As I was leaving,” she continued, “I saw many in the delegation gathered around reading the letter, so I do believe that [Rouhani] saw it.”
Abedini also says that Pastor Saeed was a topic in the Iranian leader’s television interview.
“[Rouhani] was actually directly asked by Christiane Amanpour about Saeed in her television interview with him,” Abedini said. “In that instance, he could no longer deny knowing anything about Saeed’s imprisonment.”
Abedini believes the letter will test how seriously the Iranian president is about opening up Iran.
“Since I believe he did read the letter, he has a chance to act on his promises to bring more freedom and release some of the prisoners of conscience in Iran,” Abedini said. “How Saeed was sentenced just isn’t right according to Iran’s laws, and this is President Rouhani’s chance to prove he’s really for change. He says he wants to work more closely with other nations, including the U. S., and this is his chance to prove it.”
However, Abedini says the Iranian government has a tough job ahead showing their willingness to change. She says her evidence for this is what has happened to Iranian Christians since her husband’s arrest.
“I believe that the Iranian regime has a strategy and that they believe Christianity is a threat to their security. So, they’ll not back down, no matter who the president is,” Abedini said. “The Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khameini) has been there and will continue to be there. One of the strategies is to root out Christianity from Iran.”
Yet Abedini claims the persecution hasn’t decreased the number of Christians in Iran, but rather the opposite.
“We haven’t seen a decline, and it shows that actions are more powerful than words,” Abedini said. “With their actions we see where they’re going with their persecutions and human rights violations.”
WND reported in August that the American Center for Law and Justice was pleased Secretary of State John Kerry has asked for Pastor Saeed’s freedom, but until today, wondered about the silence from the White House.
ACLJ International Director Tiffany Barrans told WND the president has been too slow in demanding Pastor Saeed’s release.
“While Saeed is important enough for the secretary, Saeed’s freedom, and religious freedom in general, does not rate high on the president’s priorities,” Barrans said.
Abedini says the constant travel and the separation from her family is difficult and has caused a strain, but she says it’s also had a positive impact.
“I’ve been travelling so much advocating for Saeed, and I’ve been gone from my kids so much. It’s been painful for them and it’s been a lonely road for us,” Abedini said. “It’s been difficult for us, but it’s been strengthening our faith. The times I am home we are able to be drawn closer together. So, believe that because of this, we’ve also become closer and gotten stronger in our faith.”
Abedini adds that she doesn’t want Pastor Saeed to be a “bargaining chip,” and wants Iran to continue to be held accountable for its human rights violations.
“I don’t want him to be a bargaining tool for any part of Iran’s nuclear program. I would hope that they would keep these two issues separate,” Abedini said. “Iran is one of the worst records of human rights violations and I hope that the world will not allow Iran to mix the two issues together.”
ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow says that while Nagmeh Abedini is continuing to work for Pastor Saeed’s release, his organization is also working toward the same goal.
“There have been vigils across the country and there was one in Washington. Member of Congress and member of the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom joined us. The State Department has sent a representative to the vigil in Washington,” Sekulow said. “It was a combined happening in 17 countries around the world – vigils for Pastor Saeed.”
Sekulow said letters are also an important part of the ACLJ’s efforts to secure the pastor’s release.
“Just like Nagmeh gave her letter and Rev. [Billy] Graham took out the full page ad for a letter to the Iranian president while he was here, we’ve asked people to write letters through BeHeardProject.com. Our initial goal was 52,000 letters, a thousand letters for every week Saeed has been in prison,” Sekulow said. “But we beat that and then said 2,000 letters for each week, and we’ve hit over 113,000 letters that people have written appealing to the Iranian president for Pastor Saeed’s release.”
Sekulow adds that the ACLJ is also working through its international affiliates.
“In November I will be meeting at the offices of our affiliate in Brazil, meeting with the highest levels of government officials there. They did a lot of work to help free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani,” Sekulow said. “So we have a long-term plan, and it’s a key moment in time because as Nagheh mentioned, President Rouhani was asked about Pastor Saeed by Ms. Amanpour and he couldn’t dodge the issue. It’s now on record that he and his delegation know about Pastor Saeed.
“We know that the only way this American pastor imprisoned in Iran will return home to his wife and family is if people continue to speak out. This is an important time,” Sekulow said.
Nagmeh Abedini agrees. She asks the American people to get involved and keep up the pressure on the Iranian regime.
“I would ask the American people to contact their Representatives and the State Department and ask our government to put pressure on the Iranians,” Abedini said.
“They say in their constitution that they allow Christian people to worship, but they’re violating that. I think people should contact the U. S. government and ask the State Department and the president to put pressure on Iran to stand up for human rights,” Abedini said.