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U.S. pastor in Iran loses court appeal

TEHRAN (BP) — An appeals court in Tehran has rejected an appeal by Iranian American pastor Saeed Abedini, whose eight-year prison sentence has garnered widespread international attention.

The appeals court decision “signals a new level of concern for Pastor Saeed’s safety,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a written statement Aug. 26.

“By keeping the 8-year prison sentence in place, Pastor Saeed now potentially faces additional beatings and abuse inside Evin Prison — treatment that has significantly weakened him during his first year in prison,” Sekulow said.

Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor’s wife, said the news is devastating to her family. She and the couple’s two young children reside in Idaho, where Saeed Abedini, 33, also lived before being arrested on a trip to Iran nearly a year ago.

Naghmeh Abedini said her family will be consulting with legal counsel in Iran to determine the next course of action, possibly appealing the case to the Supreme Court in Tehran or pleading for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to intervene and pardon Pastor Saeed.

“From past cases, we know that the decision to release my husband lies solely at the mercy of the supreme leader,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “It is imperative in the coming days, weeks and months that we remain vigilant” to call for her husband’s release.

Sekulow said the outcome of the appeal shows Iran again “has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights,” and ACLJ, which represents Abedini’s wife and has worked consistently for his release, is exploring all options for increasing international pressure on Iran.

Naghmeh Abedini, in the ACLJ news release about the rejected appeal, expressed disappointment in the U.S. government, saying “our government has been awkwardly silent as an American citizen is wasting away in an Iranian prison because he chose to practice his God-given right to choose his religion.”

President Obama has not spoken a word about Saeed Abedini publicly, the pastor’s wife noted.

“I do hope and pray that as a nation we realize that if we do not speak out against injustice, it is only matter of time before all our children will have to face what my children are facing today,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”

ACLJ reported that the appeals decision came Aug. 25 from Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals and was handed down by a two-judge panel that would not provide Abedini’s attorney with a copy.

One of the judges who issued the decision was sanctioned by the European Union for issuing long-term and death sentences for peaceful protestors, ACLJ said.

Abedini was sentenced in January for threatening “national security,” which is a catch-all phrase often used by Iranian courts to imprison converts from Islam for various sorts of evangelistic activities. He was arrested last September and taken to Evin Prison in Tehran, known for its particularly harsh treatment of prisoners.

During his months in prison, the pastor has been placed in solitary confinement at least twice and has endured repeated beatings by prison officials who have attempted to force him to recant his faith in Jesus. For months he was denied medical treatment for internal bleeding caused by the beatings.

Abedini’s response, he wrote in an earlier letter, is Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ.

“The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives,” Abedini wrote. “Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Prayer vigils for the pastor are being planned worldwide for Sept. 26 to mark one year since his arrest, to call attention to his plight and to intercede on his behalf. More information about the vigils can be found at SaveSaeed.org, where more than 600,000 people have signed a petition for his release.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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