More than 500 prayer vigils in 33 countries marked today’s grim anniversary of two years in Iranian custody for Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini.
After Saeed’s 2012 arrest by Iranian authorities, he was convicted in January 2013 for crimes against the national security of Iran, a charge tied to his involvement many years earlier with establishing Christian house churches. Sentenced to eight years behind bars, the 34-year-old has endured torture and is in ill health.
Franklin Graham joined Saeed’s wife, Nagmeh, and supporters from the American Center for Law and Justice at a prayer vigil outside the White House on Thursday evening. Their two young children, Rebekka and Jacob, sang worship hymns in honor of their father.
“The kids and I are longing to see Saeed returned home safely to us,” Nagmeh said in a statement. “The kids have been suffering for too long. Our family is ready. It is time. We are praying for a miracle.”
Nagmeh said Graham has been a “father figure, a spiritual adviser and a huge support to my family.”
“Mr. President, followers of a peaceful religion do not hold followers of another religion, like Naghmeh’s husband, American Pastor Saeed Abedini, captive for two years in Iran for no other reason than his faith in Jesus Christ,” Graham said.
“Rev. Saeed Abedini believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Abedini believes that Jesus took our sins, and the sins of all mankind, to the cross. Rev. Saeed Abedini believes that Jesus Christ rose from the grave triumphantly and that He’s alive and that He can come into any heart that is willing to invite Him in.”
The Abedinis’ journey began in 2000, when Saeed converted from Islam to Christianity and started house churches in Iran under government supervision. He met Naghmeh, who has lived in the U.S. since the fourth grade, in Tehran in 2002, and they married two years later.
In 2005, Saeed and Naghmeh came back to the U.S. after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped up persecution of Christians. Saeed became a naturalized citizen in 2010.
On his ninth trip to Iran to set up a state-approved orphanage, Saeed was pulled off a bus at the border with Turkey on July 28, 2012, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was interrogated and placed under house arrest with his parents in Tehran. On Sept. 26, 2012, the family’s home was raided by the IRGC and he was dragged off to Evin prison, notorious for its political prisoners wing.
Saeed was recently able to write a letter to his daughter for her 8th birthday on Sept. 12.
“I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home yet. Now there is a big why in your mind you are asking: why Jesus isn’t answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family?” he wrote to Rebekka. “The answer to the why is who. Who is control? Lord Jesus Christ is in control. I desire for you to learn important lessons during these trying times. Lessons that you carry now and for the rest of your life.”
“I pray God will bring me back home soon. But if not, we will still sing together…’Hallelujah,’ either separated by prison walls or together at home,” Saeed continued. “So, let Daddy hear you sing a loud ‘Hallelujah’ that I can hear all the way here in the prison!”
One of the Abedinis’ home-state senators, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), released a video calling for his constituent’s release.
“Saeed’s focus on human rights and dignities has touched the hearts of many, and I continue to press for his immediate release,” Crapo said. “Saeed has been held in difficult conditions, far from home… I ask all of you to join me today again in calling for Saeed’s release and safe return home. It’s time.”
Lawmakers tweeting on Saeed’s behalf today included Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Rep. Walt Jones (R-N.C.), and Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.).
Naghmeh will speak at the Values Voters Summit in Washington on Saturday evening, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) reminded the gathering of social conservatives in his address today.
“She is an American. Her husband is an American. Their two little kids are American children living in Idaho,” Cruz said. “You haven’t seen it, she recorded a simple video of their children saying, please, send our daddy home. Today is the two-year anniversary of the Republican Guard showing up and throwing pastor Saeed in prison for professing his Christian faith. Two years.”
“You know one of the incredible things talking to Naghmeh, is hearing the story, while Pastor Seeed, while in an Iranian prison, has led dozens of fellow prisoners and their jailers to Christ,” he added. “…The jailers are turning to pastor Saeed and saying, what must I do to be saved? God is present in the darkest corners.”
In June, Nagmeh told PJM that her family’s relationship with the State Department and White House in trying to secure her husband’s release has been “complicated.”
“At times I’ve felt Saeed has been abandoned,” she said.
Naghmeh appreciates how conservative politicians and pundits have taken up her husband’s case, but stressed that it’s an issue without party.
“This is not a political issue; this should be something both parties should jump on,” she said. “Here’s an American citizen who has not broken the law. He was encouraged to go back by the Iranian government. Christian gatherings are allowed by the Iranian government; that is not even breaking the law.”
“This should be a bipartisan issue — this is related to an American citizen being illegally held, being tortured and abused for his faith.”
A resolution by Sen. Jim Risch (D-Idaho) calling for the release of Abedini gained Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) as a co-sponsor; Democrats backing a House version of the resolution include Chaka Fattah (Pa.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), and Henry Waxman (Calif.).
“We’re all pulling the wagon together on this — there’s no daylight,” Risch told PJM, adding that the administration “should have never taken their hands off the money” and lifted part of the sanctions against Iran until Saeed was freed.
“I’m deeply, deeply disappointed,” Risch said. “They sat across the table with the Iranians for weeks… these people wanted out from under these sanctions so badly.”