Idaho Pastor to Son: Iran's 'Chains' Keep Them Apart on Boy's 7th Birthday
On St. Patrick's Day, as a young Idaho boy marks his 7th birthday, his dad will not be among the party-goers despite Jacob Abedini's every wish.
Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini 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.
"I saw your beautiful birthday invitation that you had made me and I know how much you want me to be there on your birthday. Daddy loves you so much. I long to be there for your birthday and to make this reunion happen, but my chains are keeping me from you," Saeed wrote to his son, whom he last saw when the boy was 4 years old.
The pastor thanked Jacob "for standing strong with me in this battle for the Glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
As Iran nuclear talks barrel forward again this week, with the Obama administration hoping to arrive at a deal framework, the Abedinis just want Saeed home -- for Jacob's birthday, and every day after.
"The U.S. government should not be negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran while Pastor Saeed sits in an Iranian prison," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been representing the Abedinis, has said.
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said a week ago that Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the cases of Abedini, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian "directly with Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif on several occasions."
"So it is not about a renewed push; there's been a consistent push. And obviously, seeing these American citizens come home is - remains a top priority," Psaki said.
She wouldn't, however, speculate on whether Iran might release any of the men as a goodwill gesture related to negotiations.
After his January State of the Union address, President Obama met with the Abedini family for the first time on a previously scheduled trip to Idaho.
Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, told the Conservative Political Action Conference at the end of February that she's "proud to see my husband stand up for his faith in the face of evil."
"As he stands up for his faith, how are we, as his country, standing up for him?" she said. "I'm heartbroken that we continue to negotiate with Iran as they are holding one of our own, an American pastor, captive."
The European Centre for Law and Justice pleaded Abedini's case Friday before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, arguing that "by trying and imprisoning Mr. Abedini because of his religious expression, peaceful association, and assembly of religious believers, the Islamic Republic of Iran is violating its obligations under the UN Charter and Mr. Abedini’s fundamental rights."
"Over the last two years, Mr. Abedini was: (1) arrested and imprisoned by Iranian Revolutionary Guard; (2) repeatedly beaten in prison; (3) denied access to medical care made necessary by this abuse; (4) denied access to his attorney until mere hours before his trial; (5) given a sham trial before a judge so notoriously biased and corrupt that he was condemned by the European Union for issuing egregious verdicts; (6) disallowed, along with his counsel, from attending the second day of his trial; and (7) sentenced to eight years in prison for exercising his Christian faith."
The ACLJ reported 10 days ago that Abedini witnessed half a dozen of his fellow inmates beaten and dragged off for execution.
Naghmeh said in a statement that her husband was "shaken" to see that "hard and dark day, having witnessed that and seeing life being taken."
The pastor is still suffering from internal injuries, the result of multiple beatings behind bars.
In testimony last week before the Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, Sekulow said Iran "is silently suffocating the Church."
"Even private worship comes at a risk. For example, Iran convicted American citizen, Saeed Abedini of intentionally threatening the national security of Iran solely because he had prayed with Christians in private homes. Pastor Saeed is presently serving an eight-year prison sentence and is suffering from untreated internal injuries that he obtained from beatings he endured since his arrest," Sekulow continued.
"At the close of 2014, ninety-two Christians remained imprisoned. These are only the known cases. Because of threats against victims and their families, the number is certainly much higher. Hundreds more have been released but face constant threats."