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State Department leaves American pastor off list of those imprisoned in Iran over religion

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State Department officials assembled a “virtual embassy” to Iran that spotlights the country’s human rights abuses, but they left at least one person off the list of people “unjustly imprisoned” in that country — and he happens to be a United States citizen.

“Our Virtual Embassy Tehran page has a Faces of Iran site that highlights the cases of dozens of individuals imprisoned in Iran for their political or religious beliefs, their status as a journalist, human rights or women’s defender, their role as a student activist, or for simply exercising their universal human right to speak freely,” department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters today. “So we call on the Government of Iran to protect this fundamental human right for all its citizens and to support press freedom by releasing journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work.”

Absent from the list: Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen (his wife and children live in Idaho), who is suffering from internal bleeding due to beatings suffered in prison. His jailers say they won’t give him medical treatment for two months. The Iranian authorities accuse him of waging a “soft war” against the Islamic Republic by trying to covert people to Christianity, according to his wife’s attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice.

Update: A State Department official told The Washington Examiner that Abedini was not put on the list because they are advocating on his behalf based on his status as an American citizen and do not want to dilute that argument by calling him an Iranian citizen. (Iran refuses to recognize his dual citizenship, regarding him instead as an Iranian citizen only.) The official added that the Faces of Iran page is a work in progress that will feature a new Iranian prisoner with each passing week.

“The omission of Pastor Saeed Abedini’s name from this State Department website is disappointing and represents a missed opportunity for our government to stand-up for the rights of a U.S. citizen, who also happens to be an Iranian citizen,” ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow said in a statement to The Examiner. “The question for the State Department: Why was Pastor Abedini’s name not included? It’s clear that the State Department is calling attention to those Iranian citizens whose rights have been violated. Doesn’t a U.S. citizen – who holds dual citizenship – deserve to be included on this list?”

The State Department has disappointed Abedini’s family before. At one point, government officials told his wife that the United States couldn’t help Abedini because Iran refused to recognize his U.S. citizenship, as The Washington Examiner reported.

That said, the family has been encouraged by the department’s recent actions, such as Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement calling for Abedini’s release.

“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Kerry said in March, a little over a month after 80 lawmakers asked him to condemn Abedini’s imprisonment.   “I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.”

Abedini’s family was also glad that Uzra Zeya – acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor — highlighted Abedini during her briefing on the State Department’s human rights report last week.

“We advocate on behalf of those imprisoned for their activism or beliefs, including Chinese Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, among many others all over the world,” Zeya said during her speech.

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