Over eighty Republican and Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress wrote Secretary of State John Kerry asking that he reinforce the European diplomats trying to secure the release of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran on religious charges.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, who lives with his family in Idaho, was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of starting house churches in Iran after he traveled there to start an orphanage — a project the Iranian government encouraged.
“As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote in the letter on Tuesday.
They asked Kerry to issue his first statement on Abedini’s case as the United States’ top diplomat, because such a call for Abedini’s release would encourage the European governments that represent American interests to Iran to continue their efforts to negotiate for Abedini’s freedom. (The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, so nations such as the United Kingdom and Norway work on our behalf.) Kerry previously condemned the persecution of Abedini during his confirmation hearing.
“Every American citizen traveling or living abroad should have the assurance that the U.S. government will come vigorously to his or her defense if they are unjustly detained or imprisoned,” the bipartisan group – which includes Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is also an ordained minister, and new Tea Party senators such as Sen. Ted Cruz. R-Texas, and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., — also wrote to Kerry.
Abedini’s family has been frustrated by the State Department’s reluctance to speak out on his behalf, at one point telling his wife, Naghmeh, that the U.S. government could not intervene because Iran refused to recognize his U.S. citizenship.
“We hope that this letter, with its deep support from all across America, will show Saeed Abedini that he is not alone and that we have not forgotten him,” Waxman said in a statement.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., suggested that President Obama needs to get involved personally. “Pastor Abedini’s case is symbolic of the gross injustice against all Christians in Iran today,” Graham said. “I am encouraged that many of my colleagues feel the same way, as demonstrated by this letter but we need to add the voice of the President of the United States to the chorus of concern.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has called for Abedini’s release. “We obviously have a variety of means, including this podium, to express our views on matters like this, and we are very concerned about this and very concerned about the process that led to this,” he told reporters.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini’s family, hopes that such statements from top Administration officials could convince Iran to free the pastor.
“We know that international pressure works,” ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow wrote in The Washington Post this week. “We saw that with the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was released for a second time earlier this year after being sentenced to execution for apostasy (converting to Christianity). His freedom is the direct result of immense international pressure.”