Today, an American citizen imprisoned in Iran went to trial on charges of starting house churches in that country. Iranian human rights abuses are not unusual — what is strange, though, is the State Department’s unwillingness to speak out on this American’s behalf, and the odd reasons they provide for refusing to do so.
“As our president is inaugurated today and Americans remember the many freedoms they enjoy as citizens of this great country, one American citizen will be forced to stand trial in Iran and could even face the death penalty under the Iranian judicial system,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. “To this day, however, State Department still refuses to issue any kind of statement on this U.S. citizen’s behalf.”
Abedini wrote from prison earlier this month. “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,” he wrote in a letter released by the American Center or Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents his wife, Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho with their children. “One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.”
In court today, the Iranian prosecutor “charged Pastor Saeed with attempting to undermine the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches,” the ACLJ reported. Abedini was born in Iran and converted to Christianity in 2000.
The State Department refuses to discuss Abedini’s case, even to call for his release. A Republican aide told The Examiner that the State Department privately claims that it cannot speak publicly about Abedini because he has not signed a privacy release form delivered by a U.S. consular officer — “which is not possible due to the fact that the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran,” the aide notes. Another congressional source said that Abedini’s wife has submitted the necessary form through a power of attorney.
“If our own State Department fails to advocate for a U.S. citizen who faces injustice in a country that is widely regarded as one of the most egregious human rights abusers, then I believe they have failed in one of their most fundamental responsibilities to American citizens,” Franks said.
Following the trial, Iranian media reported that Abedini had been granted bail, but his wife says this is not true. “This is a game to silence the international media,” Naghmeh Abedini said in a statement. “The lawyer in Iran was asked to make a statement, but that was before the family’s attempts today and before the regime again rejected bail. [His attorney in Iran] told me today that the regime is not dropping the charges against Saeed – this is the only act that would allow Saeed to leave Iran and return to the U.S.”
Obama’s National Security Council managed to call for Abedini’s release, though the State Department has not.”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,” NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor. “We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately.”
It’s not clear how many more days of trial Abedini faces or what sentence the prosecution will seek. His case was assigned to Judge Abbas Pir-Abbasi, also known as “the hanging judge.” The Huffington Post notes that “the judge has given death sentences to protesters, according a report in the Official Journal of the European Union, highlighted by the ACLJ. Pir-Abassi also had travel bans and sanctions placed on him by the European Union in 2011 because of alleged human rights abuses.”
In 1981, Iran released 52 U.S. hostages just minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, as The New York Times noted.