By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An American pastor who is held in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons on charges linked to his Christian faith says authorities use physical and psychological torture to pressure him to deny his faith in Jesus Christ.
“My eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky,” Pastor Saeed Abedini wrote in a letter smuggled out of Evin Prison in Tehran and seen by BosNewsLife Monday, January 25.
“They are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ,” he added, referring to alleged death threats and mistreatment. “But they will never get this [abandoning of Christ] from me,” Abedini told his wife and supporters.
Last month the 32-year-old married father of two was sentenced in Tehran by Judge Pir-Abassi to eight years imprisonment for “threatening the national security of Iran” through his leadership in Christian house churches.
Judge Pir-Abassi has been known among Christians and rights activists as the “hanging judge” because of his tendency to send suspects to the gallows. Though the pastor received a jail term, activists and family members say they fear for his life due to the “brutal” prison circumstances.
The Iranian-born pastor, who lives in Boise, Idaho, has denied wrongdoing saying he only returned to his native country to help set up an orphanage.
His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, said her husband’s latest letter makes clear that he “has been waiting in the horrific condition of the Evin Prison because of his love and faith in Jesus.”
She said over 230 days have passed without seeing him and that “it is has been [over] 40 days since I last heard his voice.”
However, “Despair and worry has surrounded me, but it has not overcome me, because Jesus is real and He is alive,” his wife stressed in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
Naghmeh Abedini said the imprisonment of her husband had taken its toll on the family. Yet, “I can look in the tear stained face of my children missing their daddy and still smile and have a peace that the world can not take away from me.”
She explained that she wanted to tell the “hurting world” that Jesus “is the answer to all of the brokenness.”
Naghmeh Abedini said she was encouraged by Bible verse Philippians 4:4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
There is growing international pressure on Iran to release the pastor.
Earlier this month, over 80 members of Congress sent a bi-partisan letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini’s immediate release.”
The letter said that “[a]s a U.S. citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights.”
However the administration of American President Barack Obama has made clear it is monitoring the detention of the pastor.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said last month, “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.
Besides the American-Iranian pastor, several other believers are jailed, Pastor Behnam Irani, 41, who activists say may not survive the remaining five years of his prison term on what they call trumped-up charges” of “crimes against national security”.
Iranian Christians have told BosNewsLife that he is unable to walk and was previously beaten by fellow inmates and guards of the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, also among the toughest jails in the country, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation’s capital Tehran.
Iran’s leadership has been accused of a wider crackdown on spreading Christianity in the strict Islamic country, where church groups claim there may be at least 100,000 evangelical Christians.
Officials have repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying they only guard “Islamic values.”
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