Published March 20, 2013
A group of Republican lawmakers have written to Secretary of State John Kerry to complain that his department has not done enough to secure the release of an Iranian-American imprisoned in Iran for offenses related to his Christian beliefs.
The five congressmen, led by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., specifically expressed disappointment that the State Department didn't send a representative to testify at a hearing last week on the matter before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which Wolf chairs.
"There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the room that our government didn't deem the hearing important enough to provide a witness," the lawmakers state in their letter sent Wednesday.
Instead, as Christian pastor Saeed Abedini sat in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, testified Friday that she felt their government was letting them down.
Later that day, State Department officials met privately with Naghmeh Abedini and Wolf's staff. Even so, Wolf also would have liked someone from the department to take the time to testify. He has left the hearing record open to allow the State Department a week to file written testimony, but none has been received.
Naghmeh came to the U.S. in 1986. She met Saeed in 2002 and they married two years later. Both had converted from Islam to Christianity -- Saeed became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
The Iranian government does not recognize his American citizenship, though it had enabled him to travel freely between both countries until this past summer, when he was pulled off a bus and placed under house arrest, according to his supporters. Abedini has been held in Iran's brutal Evin prison since September of last year and was sentenced to eight years in prison in January -- accused of evangelizing and threatening national security.
The description of the State Department's involvement in the case provided by the witnesses Friday stood in stark contrast to what administration officials have claimed in response to questions from the media.
While U.S. officials have claimed they're pressing for Abedini's release, the witnesses said a State Department desk officer last year called Naghmeh and told her "there is nothing the United States government can do for you."