Today is Religious Freedom Day. As President Obama proclaimed, “Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe.”
However, today, an American pastor, Saeed Abedini, is in prison in Iran facing a trial next week solely because of his religious beliefs, his Christian faith.
For the most part, he has been abandoned by the U.S. Government. The State Department has merely expressed its “serious concerns” about his case, but did not call for his release, and the White House has taken a question about his case with no response.
However, for the first time a federal government entity has made a statement calling for Pastor Saeed’s release. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement condemning the “bogus” charges against Pastor Saeed and demanding his “immediate release.”
Katrina Lantos Swett, the Chair of the congressionally established commission, explained the immense danger that Pastor Saeed is in:
The national security charges leveled against Mr. Abedini are bogus and are a typical tactic by the Iranian government to masquerade the real reason for the charges: to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve . . . . USCIRF calls on the Iranian government to release Mr. Abedini immediately and unconditionally. . . . Judge Pir-Abbassi is notorious for conducting swift trials and imposing lengthy prison terms, as well as the death penalty, without any semblance of due process.
USCIRF has designated the judge set to conduct Pastor Saeed’s sham trial on Monday, January 21, 2013, as one of three “hanging judges” in Iran.
In 2011, under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), USCIRF called on the U.S. government to impose travel bans and asset freezes on three “hanging judges” -- Judge Pir-Abbassi, Judge Salavati, and Judge Moghiseh -- for committing serious human rights abuses against Iranian citizens, including religious minorities. In April 2011, the European Union imposed sanctions for human rights violations on all three judges. The U.S. government has yet to follow suit.
The U.S. government must take action to defend this U.S. citizen. Our first right as U.S. citizens is the freedom of religion. Yet, when a U.S. citizen is set to go on trial before a “hanging judge” in Iran merely because of his religious beliefs, the State Department and the White House have been virtually silent.
Iran is charging Pastor Saeed for his involvement with house churches after his conversion to Christianity in 2000, activities he conducted more than four years ago. Although Saeed remains faithful to Christ and feels called to minister to Iranians, Saeed did not return to Iran to evangelize or work with house churches. Instead, Saeed returned to Iran in July 2012 to help establish a non-sectarian orphanage for children in need.
In 2009, Saeed made an agreement with the Iranian government that he would no longer lead his house church network, and he has honored that agreement. Since making this agreement, Saeed has made 9 trips to Iran to work on the orphanage and visit his parents and family in Iran. While he has previously been questioned about the purpose of his trips, he was never detained until now.
When he returned to Iran this last July, he had no reason to believe this trip would be any different than the previous eight. Saeed purposed this trip to secure the Iranian government’s approval for the final board member for his orphanage.
On September 26, 2012, Iranian officials threw Saeed in prison, and it was only this week, nearly four months later, that his Iranian attorney was able to learn the charges against him and that his trial was scheduled for next week.
It is time for the State Department to take action in defense of this U.S. citizen and his religious freedom. Join our efforts and over 100,000 other Americans in signing the petition to save Saeed.
Because you have taken action 37 Members of Congress and 12 Senators have sent letters to Secretary of State Clinton urging her action on Pastor Saeed’s behalf, and this number is expected to increase. Continue standing up for Pastor Saeed by demanding his freedom.