Saturday marked three years behind bars for Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, and his wife slammed Iran for treating him like a chess pawn in its latest comments about possible reconsideration of his case if the U.S. frees Iranians first.
Abedini, 35, is being held at Rajaei Shahr prison west of Tehran. He was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches, though he was in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.
Just last week, he was threatened with an arbitrary extension of his eight-year prison sentence — as he also faces fresh torture behind bars.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been representing Abedini’s family, the pastor was pulled into an interrogation session in which his captors repeatedly used a Taser on him.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani, in New York for the UN General Assembly, told CNN that “if the Americans take the appropriate steps and set [a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned] free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well.”
“If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps,” Rouhani said.
The pastor’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, replied, “My husband is not collateral.”
“He is a father and a man who broke no law. Yet Iran is treating him like a pawn in a game of chess,” she said. “President Rouhani’s demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostage during the Iranian revolution.”
“The environment is ripe for Iran to demonstrate it is ready to re-enter the global market and international scene of diplomats; it is time to show its good will, to change its image from one of a pariah to a member of the global society who will protect fundamental rights,” Naghmeh added.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said “all Americans should be outraged that securing his freedom has not been a priority of the Obama administration.”
“It speaks volumes about the intolerance and cruelty of the Iranian regime that it would even view house churches as a threat,” Rubio said. “Over the past three years, Pastor Abedini has been routinely beaten in prison by Iranian authorities, suffered severe injuries and been denied medical care. Despite the inhumane treatment he has suffered from radical Islamists, he remains steadfast in his Christian faith.”