Iranian-American pastor sees prison as ‘golden opportunity’
- Feb 28, 2013 -
“I Love Him! He is Gracious, Merciful, and Righteous to me.”
Those words of adoration to God might sound like something from a Sunday morning worship service somewhere across America. Instead, they arrived recently from the pen of a pastor suffering physical and psychological abuse in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons.
Then again, Pastor Saeed Abedini seems to be turning his prison experience into a worship service in itself.
For more than five months, Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, has endured torture and abuse in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where he faces an eight-year sentence for establishing a network of Christian churches in his native land. Iranian Judge Pir-Abassi, known as the “hanging judge,” handed down the sentence in January.
Yet it is from that oppressive prison, separated from his wife and two children presently living in the United States, that Pastor Saeed has shined for his Savior while shedding light on his dark conditions.
In a letter dated Feb. 18 to his wife, Naghmeh, and addressed to “My Dear Friends,” Pastor Saeed offered the world a snapshot of the torture he endures and the faith he refuses to recant. On Feb. 22, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) circulated an English translation of the letter written from what Pastor Saeed called “the dark house of Evin prison.”
“The conditions here get so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become weak and shaky,” he wrote. “Various (bullying) groups, the psychological warfare, a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked, being confronted with extremists in the prison who create another prison within the prison walls, and the death threats…”
Yet Pastor Saeed’s focus remains on his Savior, not his chains, and lost souls in need of salvation. The “intense times” of “pressures and persecution,” as he sees it, present “another golden opportunity for me to shine the light of Christ in this dark world and to let God use me.”
The 32-year-old Saeed has also chosen to bless rather than curse his persecutors. “Yesterday,” he wrote, “when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. He was shocked.”
Meanwhile, an ocean and two continents removed from Pastor Saeed, religious and political leaders in the U.S. have taken up his plight.
On Feb. 13, 27 organizations and individuals, including Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing their “deep concern about the imprisonment and trial of American citizen Saeed Abedini” and urging Kerry and the State Department “to exhaust every possible option to ensure Mr. Abedini is fully and immediately released.”
“As members of Congress have indicated, it is incumbent on us to defend basic human rights and stand against persecution,” signers of the letter stated, noting solidarity with members of Congress who have risen to Pastor Saeed’s defense.
On Feb. 12, 84 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Kerry likewise calling for the State Department to continue working for Pastor Saeed’s release. In mid-January, 12 senators and 37 representatives sent letters to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in defense of Pastor Saeed. Both the White House and the State Department issued appeals for Pastor Saeed’s release in January.
Still, others are stepping up pressure on international leaders to call Iran to account for its egregious violations of basic human rights and religious freedom. The ACLJ is urging people to sign a petition calling on the United Nations, the European Union and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to “[t]ake all available diplomatic action to press Iran to respect human rights and release Pastor Saeed.” And hundreds of thousands across the U.S. are responding. The petition, available at SaveSaeed.org, had garnered more than 370,000 names at the time of this writing.
Even as his plight brings people of many faiths and political persuasions together in common cause for his release, Pastor Saeed continues to point people to God. The imprisoned pastor, signing his recent letter as “servant of Jesus Christ in chains for endurance of Gospel,” closed with a “message for the Church”: “Stay Strong for His Glory. He will come back soon! Be with God and give your best efforts for His kingdom.”
To sign the ACLJ’s petition calling for the release of Pastor Saeed from Iranian imprisonment, visit SaveSaeed.org.