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Wolf: State Department’s handling of jailed pastor’s case ‘sends a dangerous message’

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

Rep. Frank Wolf and five other House members wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry today expressing their disappointment in the State Department’s handling of the case of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran.

Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, has been jailed in Iran’s Evin Prison since Sept. 2012 after being put on trial for being a Christian.

Wolf co-chairs the Tom Lantos Commission, which held a hearing on Friday on the state of religious freedom in Iran, specifically focusing on Abedini’s case. The State Department ducked out of the hearing, saying no one was available to provide testimony, as The Washington Examiner previously reported.

Despite ecxusing themselves from the hearing, senior State Department officials met later in the day with Wolf’s staff and Mrs. Abedini. The members argued in their letter any of the officials would have been suitable witnesses for the hearing.

“In short, the department misled the commission and in so doing sent a dangerous message to rogue regimes the world over — even human rights abuses that compromise the safety and security of American citizens will be met with virtual silence from the U.S. government,” the letter said.

The European Union and the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Iran have both advocated for Abedini’s release, which is more than the State Department has done, the letter said.

Since taking office, Kerry has not called for Abedini’s release or acted on calls from members of Congress to exhaust every option available. Wolf’s letter called the department’s response “woefully inadequate.”

Wolf and Rep. Anna Eshoo have also re-introduced legislation that would create a special envoy at the State Department  to advocate for religious minorities in specific countries. Wolf said in his letter the first version of the bill died in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 112th Congress, which was under Kerry’s leadership at the time.

“We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to make this case and the broader issue of religious freedom a priority as Secretary of State,” the letter concludes.

The other members who signed today’s letter were Rep. Trent Franks; Rep. Michael Simpson; Rep. Raul Labrador; Rep. Christopher Smith; and Rep. Robert Aderholt.

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