As the Iranian government dodges questions about holding one American, it’s opening trying another on charges that could bring a death sentence.
Iran began the trial for Abedini on Obama’s inauguration day. A 32-year-old American citizen and Idaho resident who converted to Christianity as a teen, Abedini and his wife had been forced to flee Iran once before for starting a network of home churches in the Islamic Republic. He was arrested in 2009 on a visit back to Iran to see his family, warned not to evangelize, then was arrested again in July 2012 when he re-entered the country for humanitarian work. The pastor was thrown into solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison, and has suffered abuse both at the hands of his captors and from other inmates who self-identify as al-Qaeda.
A week ago, 11 Republican senators wrote Clinton to implore that she “exhaust all efforts” and “not stand idly by while the Iranian regime arbitrarily persecutes a U.S. citizen who has committed no crime.”
“Saeed’s charges and arbitrary detention violate numerous Iranian laws and international obligations,” they wrote. “Articles 13, 14, and 23 of the Iranian Constitution guarantee Mr. Abedini his right to freely practice his religion of choice. Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran is a party to, firmly secure one’s right to practice one’s religion of choice and be free from arbitrary detention.”
When asked about the case during a press briefing a week ago, White House press secretary Jay Carney had no comment.
“Saeed’s only ‘crime’ is that the Iranian mullahs hate his Christian faith, and we need the U.S. government to speak out and engage the international community in advocating for his immediate release,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Also facing a death sentence in Iran is Amir Hekmati, a 30-year-old Flagstaff, Ariz., native and Marine Corps veteran arrested and charged with spying in August 2011 while visiting relatives in the country. A year ago, after a televised coerced confession, Hekmati was found guilty of being “corrupt on Earth and an enemy of God” and sentenced to die.
An appeals court overturned the verdict on the basis that the verdict was “not complete” and Hekmati sits in prison awaiting retrial.