Secretary of State John Kerry, in a first-ever statement from his office on the case of imprisoned Iranian-American Saeed Abedini, called Friday for Abedini to be “immediately released” and said he is “disturbed” by reports that he’s suffered physical and psychological abuse at the Iranian prison where he’s being held.
The statement was released by Kerry late Friday afternoon, and it came after the attorneys representing Abedini’s family released a letter the Christian pastor sent to his wife describing how he was beaten and denied medical treatment because he was seen as "unclean" because of his faith.
Kerry's call for the pastor’s release marks the first such formal statement on the case. The full statement from Kerry read as follows:
“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. 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.
“I am also troubled by the lack of due process in Mr. Abedini's case and Iran's continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the U.S. protecting power in Iran. I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released.”
Attorneys for Abedini's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, as well as lawmakers who have rallied on the prisoner’s behalf, have been urging Kerry to get directly involved. Republican lawmakers expressed dismay last Friday when the State Department did not provide a witness for a hearing at which Naghmeh Abedini testified.
She released a statement Friday evening.
"I am very encouraged by Secretary Kerry's statement demanding Saeed's immediate release," Naghmeh Abedini said. "I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States.”
Since last week's hearing, and the attention it received, the Obama administration has taken additional actions. State Department representatives met with Naghmeh Abedini last week, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday directly called for Abedini's release during a meeting in Geneva. An attorney for the family called that the "first pro-active statement by ... our administration" in the case.
State Department and White House officials have previously addressed Abedini’s case in public before, but only when questioned about it by reporters and others.
The Kerry statement late Friday marks a new level of escalation in the administration’s statements.
Hours earlier, a letter was released which was received by Saeed Abedini's family this week, though it may have been written weeks ago.
The letter from Saeed Abedini to his wife described in detail how he's been mistreated at Iran's notorious Evin Prison. He described how he saw his face for the first time in the mirror of an elevator.
"I said hi to the person staring back at me because I did not recognize myself," Abedini wrote. "My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown."
The pastor explained how, despite his situation, he is trying to focus on "forgiveness." He said he forgave the "interrogator who beat me" as well as the doctor who "did not give me the medication that I needed."
Abedini wrote that a nurse would not provide him with treatment because she said "in our religion we are not suppose to touch you, you are unclean." He wrote that he could not fall to sleep one night because of the pain, as he listened to the sound of "dirty sewer rats with their loud noises and screeches."
Attorney Jordan Sekulow, though, told Fox News on Friday that he has since received a medical review. Sekulow said Abedini was promised he'd be moved to a hospital outside the prison, though cautioned that the family would have to see that happen to believe it.
Sekulow, meanwhile, drew attention to a statement delivered Thursday in Geneva by Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
She said: "Iranian officials continue to restrict these communities' freedom to practice their religious beliefs free from harassment, threat or intimidation. Christian pastor Saeed Abedini's continuing harsh treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities exemplifies this trend.
"We repeat our call for the government of Iran to release Mr. Abedini, and others who are unjustly imprisoned, and to cease immediately its persecution of all religious minority communities. The United States also repeats its call for the government of Iran to provide without delay the urgent medical attention Mr. Abedini needs."
Donahoe came under criticism for neglecting to specifically address the case at a recent meeting in Geneva on Iran's human rights record. Donahoe instead broadly criticized "the Iranian government's ceaseless campaign of abuse" against those who dissent.
Abedini has been held in Iran's Evin Prison since September of last year and was sentenced to eight years in prison in January -- accused of evangelizing and threatening national security.
Naghmeh Abedini 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.