Supporters are rejoicing at the release of four Iranian-American nationals freed from Iran today under a prisoner swap deal, including U.S. evangelical pastor Saeed Abedini.
“Based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the general interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual-nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal,” the office of Tehran prosecutor said.
Abedini, 35, of Boise, Idaho, was born in Iran in 1980 and raised a Shia Muslim. In his teens, he was recruited by a jihadist group to become a suicide bomber and martyr for the cause of Islam. But he grew disillusioned with his Islamic faith and converted to Christianity in 2000 when he was 20 years old.
After marrying his American wife Naghmeh, they became prominent in the house-church movement in Iran, which at the time was not considered a threat. Abedini is credited with establishing about 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities with more than 2,000 members.
This changed in 2005 with the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and the house-church movement was subjected to crackdowns by Iranian authorities as threats to national security. The Abedinis moved back to the U.S. where Saeed became an ordained minister in 2008, and in 2010 became an American citizen.
In July of 2012, while visiting family in Iran as well as working to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confiscated his passports and placed him under house arrest.
According to Fox News, “Abedini was verbally sentenced in Tehran by Judge Pir-Abassi, known as the ‘hanging judge,’ to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches. He served the time in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, known as one of the most brutal.”
As WND reported during his more than three years in Iranian prison, Abedini endured multiple life-threatening beatings which caused internal injuries and left his face “unrecognizable.” He also suffered a lack of critical medical attention, weeks of solitary confinement and torture with an electric stun gun during interrogations
Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, lives in Boise where she grew up, with the couple’s two children, 9-year-old Rebekka and 7-year-old Jacob. She has been a constant advocate for the release of American prisoners, and said her husband’s life is “continuously threatened not only because he is an American, but also because he is a convert from Islam to Christianity. … It’s time to get Saeed home before it is too late.”
Naghmeh had started a prayer vigil website and petition signed by more than 1 million Americans, calling for her husband’s release.
Watch video below of Naghmeh Saeed telling of how her husband was captured:
Abedini’s case has been called “the most high-profile religious persecution for Christians in recent years, regularly mentioned by evangelical pastors in pulpits across the country.”
Christian persecution in the Middle East, including that of Abedini, was deemed a “2014 Top Ten Media Cover-Ups” for its lack of mainstream news coverage.
This morning Naghmeh said she woke up her two children early to tell them the news their father had been released.
“They were shocked,” she said. “You can probably hear them now, jumping up and down, asking ‘When are we going to see him?’ It’s been a time of rejoicing.”
Abedini will undergo a medical examination, and his physical and emotional state will be assessed. She told the Washington Post her husband had been beaten and interrogated when he was first imprisoned and suffered internal bleeding, but she does not know his current physical condition. She said that once they leave Iranian soil, they will discuss if she will fly and meet him somewhere or if they will meet when he returns to the U.S.