Most of us know that there are places in the world where Christians undergo immense persecution for their faith. But for many, this is a distant occurrence, something that we don’t spend much time thinking about. We take American religious liberty for granted. But in many parts of the world, especially Iran, being a Christian and practicing your religious beliefs are serious “criminal” offenses.
Saeed Abedini, a 33-year-old pastor, father and husband from Idaho, is currently imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. On 28 July 2012, during a trip to Tehran to visit family and to finalize the board members for an orphanage he was building in Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard detained Saeed, asserting that he must face criminal charges for his Christian faith. After intense interrogations, Saeed was placed under house arrest and told to wait for a court summons. On 26 September 2012, instead of receiving a summons telling him where to appear, five members of the Revolutionary Guard raided Saeed’s parents’ home in Tehran, confiscated many of Saeed’s belongings and took him to an unknown location. After four days, the Revolutionary Guard informed the family that Saeed was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison.
Saeed remained in solitary confinement for approximately four weeks before he was moved to Evin Prison. During solitary confinement, Saeed was only brought out of his small, dark cell to be subjected to abusive interrogations.
Saeed has been beaten and threatened with death for his faith. In a letter Saeed penned from prison on 10 January 2013, Saeed said he was “told he will hang for his faith in Jesus” and that he suffered “intense pains after beatings in interrogations.” He appeared before Judge Pir-Abassi on 21 January 2013, to present his defense. The lawyer confirmed in Iranian news that Saeed was on trial for intentionally undermining the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches. Saeed and his attorney argued that his gathering with Christian believers was motivated solely by his faith and that he had no intention of undermining the government. Judge Pir-Abassi had requested Saeed’s lawyer go to the media and state that the trial was conducted fairly and that he would be let out on bail soon. Yet, the family had sought bail in the past and was repeatedly denied.
One week after Saeed had presented his defense, he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He has been in prison for more than 220 days.
Saeed had been denied medical treatment for infections that have resulted from beatings. The ward doctor and nurse refused to treat him because, as a Christian, he was considered “unclean” and an infidel. Saeed’s family in Tehran may visit Saeed on Mondays, but he is not permitted to make phone calls, cutting him off from his wife and two young children in the U.S.
In late February, it became known that Saeed was suffering from internal bleeding, an injury from beatings he endured during interrogations. Doctors examined Saeed in early March and determined that his injuries warranted immediate attention and, in their medical opinion, he needed to be treated in a non-prison hospital. For a month, the Iranian regime ignored this advice.
In an attempt to appease international pressure, on 8 April 2013, Saeed was taken to a private hospital. Before doing so, guards forced Saeed to change his prison uniform to that of a murderer. Saeed resisted; the guards beat him and forced him to wear the uniform. When Saeed arrived at the hospital, he was never admitted or treated because, according to the guards, the doctor on staff was not present. Saeed has reported that several cellmates, who appear to be connected to the Iranian intelligence police, have threatened to suffocate Saeed while he sleeps.
Recently, Saeed’s condition became even more serious. Having been denied medical attention, he was thrown into solitary confinement. Beforehand, Saeed complained of kidney pain. He and the several other prisoners wrote a letter to prison officials in peaceful protest of lack of access to medical attention. In response, Iranian officials placed ten prisoners under solitary confinement, Saeed among them. Last time he was in solitary confinement, his medical condition substantially worsened. There is no reason to believe this time will be different. Saeed is now cut off from any visitation.
A petition has been started at SaveSaeed.org. Because of the media attention gained from this petition, a congressional hearing was held, and Secretary of State John Kerry has called for his immediate release. Saeed’s petition has over 580,000 signatures and a letter-writing campaign to encourage Saeed has garnered over 50,000 letters. Artists such as Toby Mac, Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mercy Me, Skillet, Relient K and Audio Adrenaline have been involved and have lent their voices to raise awareness.
There is still much to be done. We would like to encourage pastors to help raise awareness by informing their congregations about Saeed’s situation. For more information and ways you can help fight for Pastor Saeed, go to www.SaveSaeed.org.