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US calls on Iran to release American-Iranian pastor
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
20/01/2013
Washington urges Tehran to free Abedini from prison; 32-year-old is believed to have been arrested due to Christian beliefs.
 
BERLIN – The US government on Friday urged Iran to release American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini from Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

The 32-year-old father of two young children is believed to have been arrested because of his Christian beliefs, and may face the death penalty. His trial begins in Tehran on Monday before Judge Pir-Abassi, the so-called “hanging judge.”

“We remain troubled by the case of US citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs. We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Friday, Rep. Frank Wolf (RVirginia) said, “The president and secretary of state need to speak out over and over” to draw attention to the dire situation of persecuted Christians in Iran and in the Middle East.

Wolf co-sponsored a bill last week with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) from the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East to create a special envoy position within the US State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. Though the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 402-20, it was blocked in the Senate.

Abedini was arrested on September 26, while visiting Iran. He was also arrested in 2006 and 2009 and told that he is not permitted to open house churches.

Wolf co-sponsored a bill last week with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) from the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East to create a special envoy position within the US State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. Though the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 402-20, it was blocked in the Senate.

Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the Post that here is a need for "more intense pressure from governments and human rights groups" on the Islamic Republic because it will make it "more difficult for the Iranian government to move forward with a conviction."

Abedeni's case "is being held in am Islamic Revolutionary Court, which makes a quick and harsh sentence likely, and "that is why intense public pressure is a important deterrent, to prevent imprisonment and convictions," Bashir said.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the the Washington- based American Center for Law and Justice, wrote to the Post on Friday, “While the Obama administration’s National Security Council has called for the immediate release of Pastor Saeed, it is disappointing that the State Department and Secretary Clinton remain silent – failing to condemn Iran’s actions and call for Pastor Saeed’s immediate release.

This is an American citizen – facing trial and an uncertain future, which could very well include a death sentence, because of his religious beliefs.”

Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a senior fellow with the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy and an expert on Iran, told the Post on Saturday that Abedini is in danger because of his work in the house church community in Iran.

When Muslims convert to Christianity, Iran’s regime considers them “apostates,” he said.

Iran’s authorities accuse Abedini of “activities against the security of the state.”

How can a pastor who is unarmed and has no access to state secrets be a danger for the state? Wahdat-Hagh asked.

“It is clear that the dictator [Iran’s regime] fears the growth of another religion that is not Islam. “We can only pray that he will not be hanged,” Wahdat- Hagh said.
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