BY KATHERINE BURGESS ©2013 Religion News Service
Congress is pressing for
the release of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen who has
been imprisoned in Iran for his religious beliefs since September 2012.
On November 20 the House Foreign
Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan resolution condemning Iran’s
persecution of religious minorities and urging Abedini’s immediate release.
The resolution will now go to the full House.
The Senate unanimously passed a
similar resolution November 14.
The U.S. and Iran are conducting
talks in Geneva aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear program, and those backing
Abedini hope the time is right for his freedom.
“It is important especially with the
nuclear negotiations in Geneva that Congress speak out with one voice on behalf
of pastor Abedini in support of his immediate release,” said U.S. Rep. Chris
Smith, a New Jersey Republican.
The House and Senate resolutions
follow Abedini’s transfer from Evin Prison, a facility for political prisoners,
to Rajai Shahr Prison. He is now held in a ward for rapists and murderers,
according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm that
represents Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh. Abedini has been allowed visits from his
Iranian family, who have confirmed he is alive.
The Iranian government sentenced
Abedini to eight years in prison after convicting him of “undermining” the
government by spreading his religious beliefs. Abedini had previously worked
with house churches in Iran; in 2012 he helped at an orphanage and visited
Smith said that Abedini promised the
Iranian government he would not proselytize — and that Abedini had upheld his
side of the bargain.
Since his arrest, Abedini has
endured beatings causing internal bleeding and has had medical care withheld,
according to the ACLJ.
His wife and two children await his
Abedini’s persecution is part of a
wider policy against religious minorities in Iran, Smith said.
President Barack Obama and Secretary
of State John Kerry have both spoken out for Abedini’s release.