The wife of an American pastor held captive in an Iranian prison for nearly a year tells me the Obama Administration has not done anything to help free her husband – and the law firm representing the family believes it’s because the pastor is a Christian who converted from Islam.
“I have not received a telephone call from President Obama,” said Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Rev. Saeed Abedini – in an exclusive interview. “I have not received a telephone call from Secretary of State John Kerry – unfortunately.”
Her husband is serving an eight year sentence in one of Iran’s most dangerous prisons where he has reportedly been tortured and subjected to death threats.
In 2009 Abedini made an agreement with the Iranian government to stop serving as the leader of a network of house churches. But he made clear to the regime that he could not stop professing his faith in Christ.
He had also received permission to build an orphanage – and traveled between Iran and the United States nine times without incident. It was on that ninth trip when he was arrested and detained without public notice of the charges.
On Jan. 27, 2013 he was convicted of endangering national security through his leadership in the house churches and sentenced by the Iranian Revolutionary Court’s “hanging judge” to eight years in prison.
The American Center for Law and Justice said he was actually arrested because of his Christian faith as well as his efforts to help Iranian Christians in underground churches. He had been building an orphanage at the time of his arrest.
“The president has done nothing,” said the ACLJ’s Jordan Sekulow. “The president has not said the word Saeed. He has not said Saeed Abedini. He has not called for his release. He has not publicly spoken out.”
Sekulow said he was outraged that the administration has not made the Abedini case a national concern.
“This is an American citizen,” he said. “This is not just someone’s human rights being violated. It’s an American whose human rights are being violated.”
Sekulow told me he believes the reason why the administration has not been more vocal is because Abedini is a former Muslim.
“It’s because he’s a Christian and it’s because he left Islam,” Sekulow said. “I think it’s the fact that he left Islam and became a Christian that the administration has this policy of ‘well, what did you expect from a religion that tells you we will threaten your life if you leave the religion?’”
Last week State Dept. spokesman Victoria Nuland said they remained concerned about Abidini.
“We also remain deeply concerned that the Iranians have not yet granted access to him by our Swiss protecting power. We continue to believe he should be released immediately.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney also called for Abedini’s release.
But so far there have been no public pronouncements from either the president or secretary of state and the ACLJ said that’s troubling.
The lackluster support for Abedini stands in stark contrast to how the administration handled two other high profile incidents.
In 2009 President Obama dispatched former President Clinton to North Korea – where he succeeded in winning the release of two American journalists.
In 2011 the White House released more than a dozen mentions of three American hikers arrested and put on trial in Iran. President Obama issued a lengthy statement condemning their capture and demanding their release.
The White House also published links to websites supporting the hikers.
By comparison – according to a search of the White House online archives there have only been three mentions of Abedini – and one of those included Press Secretary Jay Carney saying he had no information about the incident.
“Our president and our secretary of state need to speak out for Saeed,” Sekulow said.
Naghmeh Abedini said that her husband has been suffering in the Iranian prison.
“He’s been beaten, tortured – suffering internal bleeding and suffering from medical issues,” she said. “He’s been there long enough.”
She appealed to President Obama as one parent to another – but so far – the administration has not responded.
“I would expect him to step in and demand his release,” she said. “I would expect our government to take every action to want him released now. Every day in there is horrific and he’s only there because of his religious belief.”
The Abedinis have two young children – Rebekkah 6, and Jacob 4 – and Nagmeh said that it’s been difficult raising her children as a single mother.
“The kids don’t understand,” she said. “My daughter has cried out, ‘Daddy, where are you? Daddy why aren’t you coming home? Daddy, I miss you.’” And she’ll start talking to him at night and just crying and I hold her as she has tears coming down her face. She’s only six years old.”
“It’s just hard seeing them in so much pain but you can’t do anything about it,” she said.
The Iranians told the Abedini that if he renounced his faith in Jesus Christ – he might be released. But in a letter he wrote to his wife, the American pastor said that won’t happen.
“Saeed is pretty stubborn,” she said. “He won’t give in. I smiled to myself and said, they don’t know who they are dealing with. He’s a pretty stubborn person when it comes to his faith.”
The most difficult part of their ordeal has been bedtime rituals – when Saeed would sing songs with his children.
“They still ask me to sing the songs that he used to sing to them,” she said. “And for them it’s comforting – but for me it’s heartbreaking. It’s remembering him.”