By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– The U.S. State Department says it is in contact with the family of an Iranian-American pastor who activists say is jailed and mistreated for his Christian faith in Tehran.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday, December 20, that officials were “aware of the case,” but gave no further details citing “privacy considerations.”
Rights activists told BosNewsLife that the 32-year-old pastor, Saeed Abedini, has been held since late September after being arrested while visiting family.
“On September 26 he was detained during a raid on his parents’ home,” said Middle East Concern (MEC), an advocacy group closely following the case. “He has been held in custody since then, in solitary confinement for the first four weeks.”
His family was initially told he could leave prison on a bail payment of $70,000, MEC added. However, on November 19 authorities reportedly said bail was no longer an option as his case had moved to a different court for “conviction and sentencing.”
PUNISHED FOR EVANGELLISM?
Specific charges are unknown and Iranian officials have made no comment. Some activists believe Abedini, who became a U.S. citizen in 2010, was jailed for trying to convert Muslims — a crime in Iran that could lead to the death penalty.
Pastor Saeed underwent a life-changing conversion from Islam to Christianity when he was 20 years old, according to Christians who know him well. Since then, he has been active in proclaiming his faith.
MEC said Christians supporting the family requested prayers for his American wife Naghmeh and their two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.
Naghmeh has told reporters that she believes the detention of her husband shows Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guard is increasing pressure on Christians and Americans within the borders of this strict Islamic nation.
She also alleged her husband had been abused while in jail, saying “a few weeks ago he told me (in a phone call) there’s prisoners hurting him and there was a couple rounds of interrogators and the second round (was) hitting him.”
“TEST OF FAITH”
Yet, he reportedly wrote his family from prison that he views his detention as a test of faith. “I was always worried that the storms of this life would break the ship of faith, but when you stand in the steadfast ship of faith, the storms are like a nice breeze. Nothing can break the ship of faith,” he said in a letter attributed to him.
He also said the prison walls “created more fervor for me to love others through sharing the Gospel, but more than that, the walls have deepened my love for my Savior.” He added, “I feel the prayers of all who are praying for me. I hope to one day meet each one of them face to face and embrace them in my arms.”
This isn’t the first time authorities have targeted Pastor Saeed, an ordained minister with the American Evangelistic Association,
During previous visits to Iran, Saeed received police summons in 2005 and was detained for six weeks in 2009, according to rights activists.
On both occasions he was reportedly warned by Iranian authorities to refrain from involvement in Iran’s growing house church movement.