TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iran has sentenced Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, to eight years imprisonment for evangelism and there are fears he may die behind bars, a friend told BosNewsLife Sunday, January 27.
"Many people who go into [Tehran's] notorious Evin Prison only last a few days or weeks before they perish," said Paul Hattaway, director of Asia Harvest, an interdenominational Christian group supporting churches in various countries.
Hattaway said he learned that when the 32-year-old pastor recently "stepped into the elevator he saw an older bald man with a bushy beard and swollen, bulging eyes," apparently because of poor prison conditions.
"He went to say hello to him before he realized he was looking into a mirror. It was the first time he had seen a reflection of himself for months," Hattaway added.
However, "As a friend and brother [in Christ] of Saeed, I am proud that he has remained faithful to the Lord and has been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus," he explained.
TEHRAN'S "HANGING" JUDGE
The pastor was reportedly sentenced in Tehran by Judge Pir-Abassi who has been known to sentence people to the gallows.
Trial observers said the judge claimed the Christian activities, including evangelism, threatened the national security of Iran, a heavily Islamic nation. The evidence reportedly included Abedini’s work for house churches in the early 2000s.
Abedeni's sentence is seen by Iranian Christians as part of a wider government crackdown on the growing number of Christian converts and house churches in the strict Islamic nation.
Christian missionaries have said there may be at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran.
The pastor's wife had earlier denounced Iran's claims that her husband would be released on bail as an attempt to "silence the international media."
NO BAIL ACCEPTED
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported last week that Saeed Abedini, who has been held since September, would be freed imminently after posting $116,000.
It quoted lawyer Nasser Sarbazi as saying that the 32-year old husband and father will walk out of prison later this week.
Yet, "This is all a lie by the Iranian media," said Naghmeh Abedini. "We have presented bail," she said.
"After the judge told Saeed’s lawyer that bail was back on the table, the family in Tehran ran around in circles...to make sure Saeed was let out on bail. But again the bail officer rejected bail."
Friend Paul Hattaway said the last few weeks "have been an emotional roller coaster for those involved."
FAITH IN CHRIST
He recalled that, "One day Iran has said they will kill Saeed, the next day they say he will be released so he can go home to his family."
Despite the difficulties, Saeed "boldly and courageously gave his testimony in court. He brought honor to the name of Jesus," Hattaway recalled.
"Saeed was able to share from the Bible to the judge and say that he was not a political person and had no political intentions, but he was a follower of His Lord Jesus Christ," added the pastor's wife in comments seen by BosNewsLife.
"There seemed to have been moments when the judge was moved by Saeed's testimony", she added in remarks published on her Facebook website page.
Naghmeh Abedini urged Christians to "continue to pray for the judge and Saeed's release and his return back" to his wife and two children.
US IS CONCERNED
Her concerns are shared by some 37 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 12 U.S. senators who sent letters to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to “leave no stone unturned” to bring Pastor Saeed to safety.
The spokesman of the National Security Counsel, Tommy Vietor, said that the United States is closely 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 added.
American Amir Hekmati, an ex-U.S. Marine and decorated Iraq war veteran, is also held in Iran, in his case on "espionage" charges. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
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