In a world where the news cycle bounces from one crisis to the next, it is often difficult to get the word out about an American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith.
With the terrorist group ISIS dominating the headlines now, it becomes even more of a challenge to keep the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a 34-year-old U.S. citizen wrongly imprisoned in Iran, in the news.
That is one reason why I am writing about this now. Friday, September 26 marks the two-year anniversary of Pastor Saeed’s captivity. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence because he has refused to reject his Christian faith.
In fact, as difficult as it has been with repeated beatings, malnourishment and lack of proper medical treatment, this past two years has only strengthened Pastor Saeed’s faith, as well as the faith of his wife Naghmeh and their two young children, who we represent.
Pastor Saeed and his family truly believe in the power of prayer.
Prayer has sustained them during this horrible time. And they believe prayer is essential regarding the ultimate release of Pastor Saeed.
That’s why this two-year anniversary of his confinement is being marked by a series of worldwide prayer vigils beginning with one in front of the White House.
Thursday, I joined Naghmeh, her two children – Rebekka and Jacob and Franklin Graham – president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – in Washington to pray for Pastor Saeed.
The interest in Pastor Saeed continues to grow on the international front. Friday, there will be prayer vigils across the globe – in more than 500 locations in 33 countries and territories.
“We are praying for a miracle,” said Naghmeh. “My hope is that, as thousands gather together on September 26, our governments and leaders will be reminded of the importance of religious freedom for all and continue to pressure Iran to secure Saeed’s release.”
The most recent acknowledgement of Pastor Saeed’s plight from the U.S. government came at the end of August in a statement released by the State Department calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed.
Since then, there has been additional pressure put on Iran by a United Nations panel blasting Iran for its continued imprisonment of Pastor Saeed. In its report, the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that Pastor Saeed “has been deprived of his liberty for peacefully exercising the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and association.”
That U.N. criticism occurred in the run-up to this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. One year ago, President Obama raised Pastor Saeed’s plight in a historic phone call with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. President Obama needs to raise the issue again and demand that Pastor Saeed be freed.
None of us can imagine what it’s been like for Pastor Saeed and his family during the last two years. The frustration. The heartbreak. The pain.
Pastor Saeed has missed many anniversaries and birthdays – including the most recent on September 12 when his daughter, Rebekka, turned eight. In a letter he wrote from his prison cell, Pastor Saeed sent birthday greetings to his daughter – a letter that will be released and read at the prayer vigils in Washington and around the globe.
In all of his correspondence over the past two years, Pastor Saeed’s faith is front-and-center as he tries to comfort a daughter who deeply misses her father.
“I want you to know that the answer to all of your prayers is that God is in control, and He knows better than us what He is doing in our lives and all around the world . . . my dear beloved Rebekka Grace, I pray God will bring me back home soon.”
That is a prayer that will be echoed by millions at hundreds of prayer vigils around the globe.
As Naghmeh put it: “The kids and I are longing to see Saeed returned home safely to us. The kids have been suffering for too long. Our family is ready. It is time.”
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. Jay's latest book “Undemocratic: Rogue, Reckless and Renegade: How the Government is Stealing Democracy One Agency at a Time” (Feb 2) is available now. He hosts "Jay Sekulow Live"-- a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.