“My husband, Saeed Abedini, is an American citizen held in an Iranian prison for the crime of practicing his Christian faith in the country of his birth.” Naghmeh Abedini
My husband had been promised safe passage to build an orphanage. Then came his arrest.
Naghmeh Abedini, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2013, p. A 17
To Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran:
Before your arrival in New York this week to address the United Nations General Assembly, Iran announced that it had released 80 political prisoners. No doubt the gesture was welcomed by the prisoners and their families, but the release only makes a dent in the hundreds of prisoners being held in Iran for their beliefs—political beliefs or religious beliefs.
I know, because my husband, Saeed Abedini, is an American citizen held in an Iranian prison for the crime of practicing his Christian faith in the country of his birth. I was fortunate enough to encounter your delegation in New York during your visit this week, and while I did not get an opportunity to speak with you directly, I was encouraged that one of your associates accepted a letter that Saeed had written to you.
But I worry the letter wasn’t given to you. So I write you here with Saeed’s plea for justice and freedom.
President Rouhani, you seem to have embarked on a mission to rebuild the global perception of your country. One way to achieve that is for the Islamic Republic to honor its agreements with other countries—and to honor the promises it makes to individuals. A promise made to my husband by Iranian officials was broken last year.
Saeed holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship. For the past few years, he and I have been building an orphanage in Iran, construction that was approved by the government. In 2009, Saeed was assured by the Iranian intelligence ministry that he could come and go freely in the country, and that he would not be prosecuted for his earlier leadership in Christian churches. The intelligence officials stipulated that Saeed had to stop serving as a pastor for a network of Christian churches in Iran.
My husband agreed to the terms and was encouraged by Iran to focus his energy on humanitarian efforts, such as the orphanage. But on Sept. 26, 2012—one year ago—he was arrested, thrown in prison, and later convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for crimes against the national security of Iran.
What had he done to threaten the government? According to the court, his leadership in Christian churches from 2000 to 2005 was a threat to the security of Iran. Saeed had upheld his promise not to act as a pastor and was instead simply completing work on the orphanage when he was taken into custody.
Iran’s constitution declares that Christians are free to worship, and that Iran will protect this freedom and adhere to the country’s obligations under international law. Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution states, “Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.”
But how little do these commitments mean if peaceful gatherings of Christians solely for religious purposes are treated as threats to the security of Iran and used as a justification for imprisonment and abuse? Saeed has been psychologically and physically abused while in Tehran’s Evin Prison and continues to suffer from injuries caused by repeated beatings.
As U.S. citizens of Iranian heritage, my husband and I love the Iranian people and are committed to serving the poor and abandoned children of Iran. In a recent letter to you, my husband wrote how our attempts to transparently work with the government of Iran to build an orphanage was meant only “to reduce pain and suffering” and give “compassion for the poor, orphans and unaccompanied children” of Iran. In his plea for compassion, he noted the irony that he went “to Iran to serve the orphans,” yet Iran’s unjust actions have, for over a year, robbed his own children of a parent.
Saeed and I have always tried to raise our children to be proud of their Persian heritage. However, after a year of knowing their father is imprisoned in Iran solely because of his Christian faith, their tender hearts at ages 5 and 7 have been scarred. Though they are young, they understand one simple fact: Lying is wrong and Iran lied to their father. My children used to love to travel to the land of their forbears, but now they do not trust the government of the Islamic Republic.
President Rouhani, I ask you, as a religious leader, to examine how the peaceful practice of any faith is grounds for imprisonment. The Bible and Quran are similar in their commandments that believers should seek justice, and that they should fulfill the promises they make.
In your address to the United Nations on Tuesday, you made an effort, as the world watched, to take a critical step forward in rebuilding Iran’s reputation. But the promises you make now will be easier to believe if Iran honors the promises it has made in the past.
Please recognize the promise that Iran made to my husband, and please restore Iran’s commitment to religious freedom. Please show mercy and return my husband, Saeed Abedini, to our family.
Ms. Abedini lives in Idaho. The family is represented by the American Center for Law & Justice.
A version of this article appeared September 27, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Jailed for Practicing Christianity in Iran.