American pastor Saeed Abedini and three other prisoners have been released from prison in Iran, according to news reports. Abedini was detained in 2012 and given an eight-year prison sentence for organizing house churches.
The release comes as part of a prisoner swap coinciding with the Jan. 16 implementation of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers brokered in July 2015. The U.S. has released seven Iranian-Americans charged with violating sanctions, according to an Iranian news agency.
Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, rejoiced on her Facebook page shortly after news reports came in: “It is confirmed: Saeed is released!”
She is expected to meet him in Germany, according to news reports released Jan. 19, where his health was being assessed after his release from a three-and-a-half-year imprisonment.
Naghmeh Abedini was preparing to fly to Germany for a reunion before his return to their Boise, Idaho, home, she said in a Jan. 17 telephone interview on FOX News.
“We are ready to welcome him home. I’m getting ready to fly out to Germany to be able to see him, and the kids are really excited because they are making welcome home signs,” she said. “There’s a lot of readjustment and a lot of healing that needs to happen. It’s time for our family to heal and to move forward.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release, which was announced the morning of Jan. 16, but had been considered imminent for two months, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a video on the ACLJ website. In a conversation with Sekulow, the pastor expressed thanks for his release.
“I cannot underscore enough how grateful he is for the tireless efforts of the millions of people who prayed and spoke out for his freedom over the last nearly three-and-a-half years,” Sekulow said of Abedini. “In a phone call from a U.S. military hospital in Germany where he’s being treated, Pastor Saeed thanked our entire ACLJ team and the more than 1.1 million ACLJ members who worked to secure his freedom, saying, ‘May God bless you for everything you did.’”
Abedini was still receiving medical treatment in Germany, the ACLJ said in written comments Jan. 19, and the expected date of his return to the U.S. was not disclosed. In Naghmeh Abedini’s latest Facebook posts prior to her departure for Germany, she spoke of her husband’s health.
“I am talking to Saeed right now,” she posted at 3:39 p.m. Jan. 17. “He is doing well. Thank you all for your prayers.” Abedini had already landed in Germany, via Geneva, Switzerland, his wife noted.
She spoke with President Barack Obama a couple hours earlier.
“President Obama just … called [me] moments ago and congratulated our family on Saeed’s release!” she wrote just after 1 p.m. “We had met with President Obama last year and he had promised that getting Saeed out of Iran was a high priority for him. I could see his love and compassion as he spoke last year and again today. I am thankful for our President and all of the hard work by the White House and the State Department in making this happen.”
The Obama administration secured the release of Abedini and three other Americans in a prison swap amidst nuclear disarmament negotiations. In turn, the U.S. is granting clemency to six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the U.S., President Obama announced.
Obama praised Abedini for his sacrifice.
“His unyielding faith has inspired our people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion,” Obama said. “Now Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.”
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, U.S. Marine veteran Amir Hekmati of Flint, Mich., and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari were also released, although Khosravi-Roodsari has chosen to remain in Iran, NBC News reported. Released independently of the prisoner exchange was Matthew Trevithick, a Boston University graduate studying Farsi in Tehran, who has already arrived at his home in Hingham, Mass., according to NBC.
The release of Abedini and the other Americans was the result of prayer and the Lord’s intervention, Sekulow noted.
“We want to rejoice that the Lord has set these individuals free,” Sekulow said. “At the end of the day, this was a move of God, because so many circumstances had to line up correctly for this to happen, and it did. And that’s not humans doing that; that is the Lord and we were just instruments to do our part.”
Naghmeh Abedini, who was in the midst of a 21-day fast modeled after the fast of the biblical prophet Daniel when her husband was released, thanked supporters for their help.
“Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Jesus for being with us during the difficulties of life and bringing people who help us bear them. One battle has been won of [sic] Saeed’s freedom. There are many more difficult battles and a hard road ahead.”
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy this past November.
The pastor had been sentenced Jan. 27, 2013 on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July 2012.
(EDITOR’S NOTES – This story was compiled by reports from Seth Brown, content editor for the Biblical Recorder, and Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)