TEHRAN Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor currently imprisoned in Iran, is being threatened with death as the country continues its longstanding pressures against Christians, according to a U.S. organization advocating in Abedini's behalf.
The Iranian-born Abedini, a U.S. citizen who planted a network of house churches in Iran, was imprisoned last September and recently indicted on secret charges. According to the American Center for Law and Justice, Abedini's case recently was handed to Iranian Judge Pir-Abassi, known as one of the country's "hanging judges" for the number of people he has sent to their deaths.
Also languishing in prison in Iran are attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah and pastor Benham Irani.
The ACLJ reported Jan. 10 that Abedini had released a letter to his family members in Iran describing his ordeal.
"The life of Pastor Saeed is in grave danger," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said in a news release. "When you read Pastor Saeed's own words, you understand that Iran has absolutely no regard for human rights and religious freedom."
In his letter, a copy of which was posted by the ACLJ, Abedini writes of sleeping in a room with a bright light constantly lit, blurring day and night, and of the difficult process by which he says God is making him a godly man.
"It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel," Abedini wrote. "This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my family and kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy. These hot and cold days only make you a man of steel for moving forward in expanding His Kingdom."
Abedini also wrote of the joy he felt when he heard how Christians around the world were supporting him, and that other prisoners were "shocked" by the love followers of Jesus showed each other.
"I told them how in the Bible we are all considered brothers and sisters (despite race, color, or nationality) and we are to share in each other's pains," Abedini wrote. "This comes from our Lord. The Word of God says that when we are persecuted for our faith we are to count it all joy. When I think that all of these trials and persecutions are being recorded in heaven for me, my heart is filled with complete joy."
The Iranian government does not recognize Abedini's U.S. citizenship, the ACLJ says, which he gained in 2010 by marriage to his American wife, with whom he has two children. Abedini had traveled back and forth from Iran freely until his arrest. The ACLJ, which represents his wife and children (who reside in the U.S.), claims the U.S. State Department has done little to help the pastor.
"We continue to press the Obama Administration to engage this case -- to speak out forcefully on Pastor Saeed's behalf and put pressure on Iran's allies to free this American," Sekulow said in the ACLJ's news release. "Time is of the essence."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British religious rights organization, meanwhile reported on Jan. 7 that prominent Iranian human rights attorney Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, who led in securing the release of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from prison, was jailed and disbarred for 10 years in September 2012, and his health is deteriorating. Dadkhah had faced the prospect of imprisonment for more than a year.
"Moreover, official attempts to justify his imprisonment by attempting to coerce an 'on air' confession are not only reprehensible, but are also clear indications that the charges levelled against him were spurious," Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive, said in a statement on the group's website. "CSW calls for the immediate release of Mr Dadkhah and for an end to the campaign of harassment of civil society."
International Christian Concern, a Washington advocacy group for the persecuted church, meanwhile has kept its spotlight on the plight of pastor Benham Irani, who since his 2011 arrest has suffered severe health problems due to beatings by Iranian prison authorities and other cellmates and has been denied medical treatment.
Serving a six-year sentence for "acting against the interests of national security," Irani wrote a letter from his prison cell to fellow Christians, ICC reported, speaking of his love and faith despite his suffering.
"My brothers and sisters, I love you all," Irani wrote. "Christ has given you to me on Calvary. Even if I were sentenced to many years behind bars for the salvation of one of you, there would never be any complaint."
ICC also relayed a report from Mohabet News, an Iranian Christian news agency, that Tehran house church pastor Vruir Avanessian was released on bail from Iran's notorious Evin Prison on Jan. 10 after 15 days in custody. Avanessian, apparently arrested due to his alleged contacts with Christian converts from Islam, was in poor health and required dialysis while in prison.
And Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Iranian pastor Nadarkhani was was re-arrested and released several days later. Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity, spent nearly three years in an Iranian prison before his acquittal in September of apostasy charges that could have led to his execution. He was convicted on lesser charges and sentenced to three years in prison but released due to time already served. On Christmas Day 2012, he was returned to prison but subsequently released on Jan. 8 of this year, CSW reported.
According to a recent International Christian Concern report on Iran, the country saw a steep increase in persecution of religious minorities in 2011, which continued in 2012. Among the issues the report identified were arrests and detentions, harsh interrogations, raids on church gatherings, torture, long detentions without charge, violations of due process, and exorbitant bail demands.