The release of Americans imprisoned in Iran should be a condition of any nuclear deal with the Persian nation, the wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini told the House Foreign Affairs Committee June 2.
Following testimony from Naghmeh Abedini and the families of other U.S. citizens imprisoned or missing in Iran, the committee passed a resolution stating, “Iran should release all detained United States citizens immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders.”
Naghmeh Abedini said she appreciated that the captive Americans are “being discussed on the sidelines” of nuclear talks. “But they’re still not home. Where’s the action? Where’s the resolve? I don’t see any resolve.
“Iran continues to shrug it off and not really respond to discussions on the sidelines. … This is crucial time. Iran has to feel some pressure to want to release the Americans. They’re not going to do it through sideline discussions. I hope there’s some pressure as this is a crucial time to bring these Americans home and end [the] pain and suffering of all of our families,” Naghmeh Abedini said according to video of her testimony posted on the Save Saeed Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SaveSaeed?fref=ts).
Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since Sept. 26, 2012, because of his Christian faith. He was sentenced Jan. 27, 2013, to eight years in prison on charges he threatened Iranian national security by planting house churches years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July 2012.
Family members of two other Americans imprisoned in Iran joined Naghmeh Abedini in testifying before Congress. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested more than 10 months ago and charged with espionage. Amir Hekmati is a former Marine who was charged with espionage when he visited his grandmother in Iran in 2011.
Also represented was the family of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared while working as a contract employee for the CIA in 2007.
Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers responded to the testimony by saying they would not support a nuclear deal with Iran that fails to include the release of the jailed Americans.
“It would just be ludicrous and outrageous for us to have a deal with Iran that doesn’t include the bringing home of our hostages,” New York Democrat Eliot Engel said according to NPR.
Texas Republican Randy Weber said “Congress should get real serious” about insisting on the Americans’ release.
There should be “no agreement, period, until Iran releases the hostages,” Weber said according to the Washington Post. “I hope John Kerry, President Obama, everybody on their team comes to their senses and says if human rights is not the main thing with this regime, how can you trust them with anything else?”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest has said the Obama administration will not negotiate for the prisoners’ release. “We will not allow these American citizens to be used as bargaining chips,” he said.
The State Department confirmed it has discussed all four Americans represented at the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations, NPR reported.
A deadline of June 30 has been set for reaching a final nuclear deal between the U.S., Iran and five other nations. Legislation passed in April gives Congress the power to approve any nuclear agreement.
In her prepared written testimony for the Foreign Affairs Committee, Naghmeh Abedini said her husband needs two surgeries because of injuries sustained in captivity and faces serious challenges related to “his psychological health.” She also spoke of her husband’s refusal to recant his trust in Christ for salvation.
“When I entered this great nation almost 30 years ago as a young girl, I was given the freedom to choose Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “I felt safe knowing that my rights to choose my own religion would be protected and defended in this great country of the United States of America. Today my husband is suffering in the Iranian prison for this very reason. It is because he also chose to believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
“The Iranian government has repeatedly told Saeed he holds the key to his freedom – but this key would be to deny his faith and return to Islam. Yet, Saeed has refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ in the face of torture and abuse,” she said.
Only the comfort of the gospel has allowed her family to cope with three years of separation and captivity, Naghmeh Abedini said.
“The do’s and don’ts of religion cannot bring much peace and comfort,” she said. “Only an intimate relationship with our Maker can bring about the supernatural peace and strength that is covering our family today. And that relationship is only possible through the acceptance of the heavy price of sin that was paid on the cross by Jesus Christ. Today that salvation is available for all who believe.”
The American Center for Law and Justice has collected more than 900,000 signatures on petitions calling for Abedini’s release, according to an ACLJ news release.
“As the Obama administration is finalizing nuclear negotiations with Iran, the very nation holding Pastor Saeed and the other Americans hostage, it is critical that America demand his freedom,” ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow said. “Congress has a say in any final deal and both chambers have reiterated that the American citizens are a top priority.
“It’s time for America’s leaders to back up their words with actions to save Pastor Saeed and the other U.S. citizens,” Sekulow said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)