ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — American pastor Saeed Abedini prayed hours at times to survive years of abuse and unjust imprisonment in Iran for his Christian faith, and described his prayers as a “wonderful time with the Lord” which he enjoyed.
In his first media interview since his release from an Iranian prison was announced Jan. 16, Abedini told FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren of the brutal physical and psychological torture he suffered in Iran for three and half years.
The 35-year-old Abedini described three harsh beatings in particular, including a beating by an al Qaeda prisoner that nearly took his life.
“I was beaten within to death kind of,” he told Van Susteren in broken English. “God saved me over there.” During a botched trial, the judge closed him in a room where guards beat him so badly with their fists that he suffered internal bleeding in his stomach. And at another time, he said, he was beaten on the face and body with a heavy metal chair.
“They tried hardly [sic] to damage my reputation in Iran so they asked me to write and sign the things that I didn’t do,” Abedini said. “Actually it was in a courtroom that the judge closed the door and the interrogators started beating me, which in that time I got stomach bleeding. They asked me the things that criminal prisoners do, so when I deny it, they start beating me. They asked me to sign it, to write it, and I denied and they, when they saw it doesn’t work, they let me go.”
He described the 60 days he spent in a cell with U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, also released in the prison swap, as both joyful and painful.
“It was the best moment I had since I got arrested, to see him alive,” Abedini said, while describing the pain he felt upon seeing Hekmati, underweight with black eyes. During that time, the two decided to encourage one another.
“It was just me and him in a room, nothing to do … for two months. Actually he was over there for more than eight years in the same room when I met him,” Abedini said of Hekmati. The harshness of solitary confinement sweetened the release to another prison area, he said.
“But after coming out from solitary and seeing one person, that you can talk, it was like heaven,” Abedini said. “So it was a good time.”
Tens of prisoners at a time were executed on Wednesdays, Abedini said.
“The worst thing I saw was they took some Sunnis for execution; it was in front of our eyes, and they took like tens of them to hang them,” Abedini said. “Every Wednesday … they hang the people, and they take them for execution. Most of them, they are Sunnis, some of them political prisoners, and I can say most of them, they are there for their faith.”
The prisoners were afraid, crying, screaming, forcibly taken by their hands and feet to be hanged, Abedini said, “like when they take a lamb for slaughtering.”
Van Susteren interviewed Abedini at the Billy Graham Conference Center at the Cove in Asheville, and announced plans to release portions of the interview in segments in the coming weeks.
Abedini’s wife Naghmeh has twice been delayed in seeing him since his prison release. She cancelled plans to visit him in Germany, where he was treated at a U.S. military hospital before his Jan. 21 arrival in the U.S., to give him more time to recover before reuniting with their children Rebekka and Jacob. She told Baptist Press of plans to meet him Jan. 25 at the Cove, but according to news reports, that visit had also been delayed, Reuters News reported.
Naghmeh Abedini could not be reached for comment today (Jan. 26), but she earlier told BP she was looking forward to spending time with her husband and undergoing counseling with him at the Cove.
The Abedini marriage is strained by the imprisonment and emails that surfaced, intended only for close friends, in which Naghmeh Abedini accused her husband of spousal abuse and an addiction to pornography. She expressed regret for sending the emails and declined to discuss the specifics of the abuse.
“I think when it’s time,” she told BP, “I think it’s a story that needs to be told by Saeed, not me. I think it had better not be anything that I focus on anymore.”