A little over one year ago, Pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested in Iran for charges of “undermining the Iranian government,” with the reasoning behind said charges being “Christian gatherings,” according to his wife, Naghmeah Abedini. After being arrested for practicing Christianity, Abedini was sent to Evin Prison, a holding facility usually reserved for political prisoners. There, Abedini had been subjected torture and abuse for refusing to admit to the crimes against him and denounce his Christian beliefs. However, Abedini has now been transferred to a harsher prison – Rajai Shahr Prison.
Dutch diplomat Loes Bijnen wrote about the conditions of Rajai Shahr Prison in 2005, stating that:
“Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.”
Bijnen’s details have been corroborated by Jay Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice: “He could easily be killed not by formal execution but by a fellow inmate. That’s why we are so concerned right now about his safety and survival.”
Due to fear of the imminent danger facing Abedini’s life, his wife, Naghmeah, along with several Senators, Christian activists, and human rights groups, have implored President Obama and his administration to once again contact the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and discuss freeing American religious prisoners. Earlier this year, Obama was compelled by Naghmeah to speak with President Rouhani by phone and ask for the release of 3 American prisoners – Abedini, Robert Levinson, and Amir Hekmati. Many thought that Obama’s request would be granted considering the Iranian president was visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York at the time of the call and had previously spoken on bettering Iran’s relations with the US.
However, many citizens, along with Revolutionary Guards commanders, celebrated a “Grand Day of Death to America” on November 4, the anniversary of the US Embassy takeover in 1979. With this cultural hatred toward the US, odds are the Rouhani will be slow to give in to American demands for the release of prisoners.
The uphill battle to earn the release of Abedini and others has not deterred United States politicians from trying, though. A Senate resolution created by Senators Jim Risch (R – ID.), Patrick Leahy (D – VT.), Mike Crapo (R – ID.), and Rand Paul (R – KY.) has called for Iran to immediately release all US prisoners being held for practicing their own religious beliefs, based on the fact that the US does not discriminate on the basis of religion and that the natural rights of US citizens should be protected in Iran, who is a member of the United Nations and as such, has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What happens next is up to the United States federal government and Secretary of State John Kerry. The holding of US prisoners may be an attempt by Iranian President Rouhani to hold some bargaining chips in relations with the United States. Rouhani may be hoping to exchange the prisoners in return for some lifting of the sanctions placed against Iran for the embassy takeover in 1979 and refusal to halt their nuclear enrichment program. If that is the case, Abedini and others may be released sooner than later due to the increasing pressure of the US to talk with a now open and receptive Iranian government.[Image via Facebook]