At Friday’s congressional hearing Members of Congress scolded the State Department for its unwillingness to appear and testify on behalf of imprisoned U.S. citizen, Pastor Saeed Abedini. Each of the members of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the State Department’s lack of involvement.
Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) derided the State Department’s utter lack of engagement and refusal to appear before the Commission. Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) stated that the State Department should be “utterly ashamed” of its “deafening and almost cowardly silence” about this U.S. citizen. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) reiterated, Thank you Dr. Sekulow for reminding us that the State Department is ‘AWOL.’” Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said, “I hope, I don’t know, but I hope that there are efforts being taken” by the State Department. “I think you should know about” them.
At the conclusion of the hearing Chairman Wolf reported that Secretary of State John Kerry’s office told him during the hearing that Secretary Kerry would be calling the Congressman later that day or over the weekend.
As of this morning, Congressman Wolf’s office reported that Secretary Kerry still has yet to call the Congressman.
Following that hearing, the State Department told the media, “We believe we are doing everything we can publicly and privately.”
Unfortunately, this statement from the State Department is patently and undeniably false. The State Department refused to send anyone to the Congressional hearing to stand up for Pastor Saeed. When the U.S. delegation at the United Nations had the opportunity to present a statement about the state of human rights in Iran, in response to a U.N. report that actually mentioned Pastor Saeed’s plight, the U.S. State Department was silent about Pastor Saeed’s case. As Congressman Franks noted at the hearing, the State Department has yet to respond to a bipartisan letter from more than 80 Senators and Representatives urging its engagement for Pastor Saeed – a letter that was sent more than a month ago.
The Obama Administration – the White House, the State Department, and Secretary Kerry – has not once made a proactive statement demanding Pastor Saeed’s freedom. Every statement to date from this Administration has been reactive, merely as a response to media inquiries.
The State Department’s failure to take adequate action publicly and proactively, clearly falling far short of “everything we can,” does not give confidence that they are doing more privately to advance Pastor Saeed’s cause and to bring him home to his wife and children safely.
It has been Congress that has taken the lead publicly on behalf of the United States government, not the State Department.
In addition to the numerous bipartisan letters and statements, the Commission has provided an invaluable opportunity to elevate Pastor Saeed’s case within our own government.
We are especially grateful to Chairman Wolf, and Representatives Franks, Smith, Bonamici, Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Raúl Labrador (R-ID) for participating in Friday’s hearing and for being a tremendous voice for religious liberty around the world.
It is also important to note that two other Members of Congress sent in statements to be made a part of the official record of the Commission hearing: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who is not a member of the Commission, and Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA), Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
Majority Leader Cantor’s statement:
"I want to thank the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for holding this important hearing and for shining a light on Iran's brutal repression of its own people. I also want to express my sympathies to Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who languishes today inside Iran's notorious Evin Prison for the crime of practicing Christianity.
Many Americans understand that Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability poses a threat to its neighbors and to the United States. And many others know that Iran is the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, and provides lethal support to Hizballah, HAMAS, and other radical terrorist groups
Less appreciated is the grave and continuing threat the brutal regime in Tehran poses to its own people. Iran's clerical regime relies on surveillance, intimidation, repression, and violence to punish and control political dissent. But the gross human rights abuses in Iran are not confined to those who publicly challenge the authoritarian nature of the regime or dare to express their personal political views. The regime commits atrocities against those whose only crime is that they seek to exercise their inherent right to practice their own religion. Christians, Jews, Baha'i, and Muslim minorities alike have been targeted by Iran's radical Shiite government for doing little more than praying to their own god.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Saeed and all of Iran's prisoners of conscience, and we call today for their immediate release."
Congressman Forbes’ Statement:
Mr. Chairman, religious freedom is a basic fundamental human right and one of the core principles upon which this great nation was founded. I am deeply dismayed that one of our own citizens, Saeed Abedini, has had this fundamental right so roundly violated. I applaud the Commission for highlighting Pastor Saeed’s case today and condemn the Iranian Regime’s wrongful detainment and imprisonment of him. I call on my colleagues in the U.S. government and the international community to stand together for Pastor Saeed’s immediate and unconditional release and exoneration. I specifically request that the President and the Secretary of State fully engage in the effort to free Pastor Saeed, and I urge all Americans to use this opportunity to remember the countless others who are persecuted for their faith around the world.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) even tweeted, “Pres Obama & the State Dept can - and must - do more to bring about immediate release of #PastorSaeed. cc @ACLJ.” It is time for the State Department to end its near silence on Pastor Saeed’s case and fully engage this issue publicly and privately. For a U.S. citizen abused and suffering from internal bleeding, time is of the essence.