By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- An Iranian-American pastor faces a possible death sentence Monday, January 21, before a judge who is notorious for hanging defendants, his family and other Christian said.
Saeed Abedini, 32, has been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since late September, after being detained while visiting family.
Specific charges are unknown but activists say Abedini, who became a U.S. citizen in 2010, was jailed for trying to convert Muslims — a crime in Iran that could lead to capital punishment.
Additionally, supporters say the charges are related to Abedini’s involvement in starting a house church movement in Iran, nearly a decade ago. The judge he'll face, Abbas Pir-Abassi, is reportedly infamous for sending defendants to the gallows.
"EXPECTING THE WORST"
His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, said in an interview that she was told by attorneys to expect the worst at Monday's trial for her 32-year-old husband and father.
"When I do get to speak with him, I don’t even know what to say. What do you say when you only have four minutes?", Nagmeh Abedini said in a statement. "There is a lot going through my mind. I can never clear my head. I only sleep two hours a night,” she told U.S. based network and news site Foxnews.com.
"Unfortunately, he has been set up for failure and a harsh sentence because of his beliefs. His attorney says that the court has gathered a large amount of evidence against him," she added, speaking from her home near the U.S.city of Boise.
Rights activists claim he already sustained beatings and abuse by his Iranian captors because of his Christian faith, though it was difficult to independently confirm the claims.
US GOVERNMENT CRITICIZED
A conservative Washington-based religious rights group claims the United States government is not doing enough to save him.
"In the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was imprisoned in Iran facing execution for his faith, the White House made multiple statements "condemn[ing] the conviction of Pastor Youcef" and "demand[ing] Pastor Nadarkhani's immediate release," said the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
"The only thing we have heard from the White House is a statement from the National Security Counsel (NSC) spokesman, provided only to those who specifically requested it, calling for Pastor Saeed’s immediate release," the UCLJ complained.
As preparations for Monday's court hearing were underway, 37 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 12 U.S. Senators sent letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to “leave no stone unturned”
to bring Pastor Saeed to safety.
WHITE HOUSE "TROUBLED"
NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said however that the United States is following the case. "We remain troubled by the case of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs. We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately," he said.
UCLJ International Legal Director Tiffany Barrans acknowledged that this wasn't the easiest time for Washington to pressure Iran. "Obviously, the political climate between us and Iran, this is probably the worst it's been in years. We are concerned that Saeed's life could easily be used as a political pawn," Barrans added.
Friends state Abedini have denied claims by officials that he was involved in evangelism during his recent trip.
They say the Christian was finalizing plans for an orphanage and frequently traveled from his native Iran and Boise in the U.S.
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