WASHINGTON – Less than two weeks before Christmas, Naghmeh Abedini testified before Congress on behalf of her husband, U.S. citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran since last June because of his Christian faith.
"My husband is suffering because he is a Christian," Abedini said when she addressed a subcommittee hearing of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday (Dec. 12). "He is suffering because he is an American. Yet, his own government … has abandoned him. Don't we owe it to him as a nation to stand up for his human rights, for his freedom?
"Not all Americans are Christians, but every American – regardless of their belief –needs to be reassured and know that our government will take decisive action to protect us if our fundamental rights are violated," Abedini added.
Although this was Naghmeh Abedini's first time officially to testify before a panel of the House of Representatives, she already has described her husband's plight internationally through news agencies and while addressing the United Nations in Geneva earlier this year. As a special guest at the Missouri Baptist Convention in October, she recalled telling world leaders at the U.N. meeting that "the solution they're all looking for to the world's problems is Jesus Christ."
Naghmeh Abedini, testifying before a congressional subcommittee Dec. 12, tells of her family's anguish since her husband, U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned in Iran in June 2012.
During the Dec. 12 House hearing, Naghmeh Abedini and attorney Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law Justice (ACLJ), thanked members of Congress for showing nonpartisan interest in her husband's release. Yet they expressed dismay that the U.S. administration had failed to use unprecedented negotiations between the United States and Iran to demand his release.
"At such a critical juncture," Sekulow said, "with the U.S. government sitting literally across the table with Iran … for the first time in 34 years, we need to be sure that Pastor Saeed and the other Americans mentioned here today, wrongfully detained, are seen not as a marginal issue, but as essential to those ongoing diplomatic talks.
"Pastor Saeed has exhausted all legal remedies in Iran," Sekulow added. "His freedom now rests solely on the success of diplomatic efforts."
Sekulow expressed concern that, during a House hearing two days earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that he had not mentioned Saeed Abedini during nuclear talks with Iranian officials.
According to a transcript released from the ACLJ Dec. 11, Kerry said, "I personally raised the issue with the Foreign Minister Zarif when I met him the very first time, and we have not linked it directly to the nuclear issue because we believe that prejudices them and it also prejudices the negotiation." In response, Sekulow tried, during the Dec. 12 hearing, "to impress upon Congress the desperate need for great urgency, as Pastor Saeed is in a dire predicament."
Abedini, who was arrested last June while working with government approval to establish an orphanage, was sentenced without due process to eight years in the political prisoner ward at Iran's notorious Evin Prison, Sekulow explained. Then, as the U.S. administration pursued diplomatic discussions with Iran in November, he was transferred to the criminal ward of Rajai Shahr Prison.
"This is Rajai Shahr Prison," Sekulow said, "built for 5,000 violent criminals, real criminals – murderers, rapists, drug dealers, people convicted and sentenced to death or life in prison. Built for 5,000 inmates, it is currently housing approximately 22,000. It is a prison out of control with violence. To define the situation as inhumane would be a gross understatement."
According to recent reports, Abedini has been robbed numerous times, as well as threatened at knifepoint. He is covered in lice and malnourished. Increasingly he suffers from stomach pain because the Iranian government refuses to give him access to needed medication.
"In addition to the horrific abuse and torture Pastor Saeed has faced at the hands of his own brutal Iranian captors, Pastor Saeed has not always had the full backing of his own government," Sekulow said. "And I want to be clear here. I mean the Executive Branch. Members of Congress have been with us – on both sides, Republican and Democrat – since the beginning."
In her testimony, Naghmeh Abedini told U.S. representatives that, after a "radical encounter with Jesus" in 2000, her husband "found true joy, love and peace that he could not find in his former religion." She added, "He will not deny the faith that has saved him and given him life."
Holding up a picture of her children, Abedini also expressed the pain of living without a husband and father. She then read a letter written by Abedini to his daughter on her seventh birthday.
"It is so hard and so heartbreaking for me to see these pictures and to know that I am not there beside you as you grow," Abedinni wrote. "I came here to help the kids that did not have mommies and daddies, but my own kids lost their daddy. This breaks my heart so much. I want you to know that I did not want to put so much pressure on your little shoulders, my precious children."
"It has been hard," Naghmeh Abedini said. "It has been a struggle as a mom watching my 7-year-old and my 5-year-old cry themselves to sleep every single night for the last 444 days, and knowing that unless we get Saeed out quickly, he might serve the eight years or even more – or he might not even survive that prison sentence.
"As we approach Christmas, which is a joyful time of the year but is a painful time for our family … I want to end with this," Abedini said before reading a passage of scripture that summarized the belief for which her husband was imprisoned: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
"And in this season," Abedini added, "I not only pray for the release of my husband, but I hope and pray that our government would realize where we have fallen from and how far we have fallen, and that we would return to the source of blessing. May God bless America, the land that I love.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Naghmeh Abediniís full statement to Congress can be accessed at http://media.aclj.org/pdf/13_12_12-testimony-of-naghmeh-abedini-saeed-hearing.pdf.)