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How the Senate can save Pastor Abedini

Pastor Saeed Abedini has been held in an Iranian prison for 1,085 days. But today the U.S. Senate may finally take action that could lead to his freedom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has scheduled a procedural vote today on an amendment that would block President Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran under the nuclear deal until Iran publicly releases Abedini and three other Americans currently held in Iranian prisons.

For the past few years, Abedini has been at the center of one of the world’s most high-profile cases of religious persecution.

Abedini is a former Muslim and Iranian who converted to Christianity in 2000. After his conversion he became involved in the house-church movement and is credited with establishing about 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities. He later moved to the U.S, became an ordained minister, and in 2010 was granted American citizenship, becoming a dual Iranian-American citizen.

Since 2009, Abendini made a half dozen trips back to Iran. He had travelled back to the country in 2012 to finalize work on an orphanage when Iranian revolutionary guards detained him and said he must face criminal charges because of his Christian faith. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for “compromising national security.”

In 2013 National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement Sunday the Obama administration is "deeply disappointed that Saeed Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge related to his religious belief.”

"We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini," added Meehan.

“Under Shariah, or Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is on a par with someone waging war against Islam,” notes Lisa Daftari. “Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran’s Constitution, which allows judges to rely on fatwas for determining charges and sentencing on crimes not addressed in the Iranian penal code.”

In June 2014, the ERLC presented the 2014 Richard Land Distinguished Service Award to Saeed Abedini. His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, accepted the award on his befalf.

“Through his story, and through Naghmeh’s advocacy, millions of Americans have heard a gospel-focused plea for religious freedom,” said ERLC president Russell Moore. “We are eager and grateful to have the opportunity to present Naghmeh with this award on Saeed’s behalf—so we as a Commission can show honor to this family, their witness and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In article for ERLC published this past June, Naghmeh wrote, “Saeed was initially arrested because of his Christian faith, but as Iran began negotiations with the world regarding its nuclear development, he has become entangled in a greater political battle. Because of this, it is important that we continue to pray. We must pray for our leaders sitting at the negotiating table with Iran. We must also pray for the hearts of the Iranian authorities who continue to detain him.” More recently, Naghmeh reported, "Saeed spoke of a cellmate who died this week in the prison because of lack of medical treatment. Saeed and other prisoners worry about their own medical conditions that continue to go untreated. Saeed has held onto hope that he would be released before his medical condition became too critical."

Whether the current proposed deal with Iran is prudent is a matter of ongoing debate. But, it seems reasonable that the U.S. should expect the release of the four Americans as a goodwill gesture on the part of the Iranians. Shouldn't every Senator — whether Democrat or Republican — support the release of these men as a necessary condition for any agreement to remove sanctions on Iran?

Contact your Senators today and tell them to cast their vote to bring Pastor Abedini home to his wife and children.

UPDATE: The amendment failed after 42 Democrats in the Senate voted to block the amendment. 

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