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California pastor, jailed for protesting in Iran, on his way home

  • Sarah Yetter, daughter of La Puente, Calif., Pastor Eddie Romero, speaks as Shah Afshar, left, and HCF pastor Bob Wilcox listens during a news conference at Hacienda Christian Fellowship church in La Puente on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Romero was detained in Iran after staging a protest outside a prison, demanding the release of Iranian Christians held inside. Romero crossed into Iran from Turkey Oct. 14 as part of a tourist group. (AP Photo/San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Leo Jarzomb) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDITThe Associated Press

  • Oct. 22, 2013: Rosemary Romero, right, wife of pastor Eddie Romero who is detained in Iran after staging a protest outside a prison, stands next to her daughter Charis Gauna at her home on Tuesday.AP

An activist preacher detained in Iran after staging a protest outside a prison will be sent back to the United States, his daughter said Tuesday.

Eddie Romero called his family early Tuesday morning from the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and said that he would be returning on a Turkish Airlines flight that arrives in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, Sarah Yetter said.

The U.S. State Department had only brief comment on the matter.

"We are aware of the reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Iran and, due to privacy consideration, have no further comments or details this time," spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington, D.C.

Romero, founder of the organization Exodus8one, went to Iran intending to protest the imprisonment of four Christian converts and a human rights advocate, his daughter said.

He crossed into the country from Turkey with a tour group on Oct. 14, broke away from the group last Thursday night and reappeared Monday at Tehran's Evin Prison, where he repeatedly shouted "Let my people go" in Farsi along with the names of the five people imprisoned there.

He surrendered peacefully to the prison guards, who took him inside for questioning through an English translator, his daughter said.

Romero used a smartphone to broadcast audio and some video of his protest and eventual detention on the Internet, she said.

"We weren't sure if there was going to be violence or if he was just going to get grabbed. Or be ignored," Yetter said.

"You want your loved one to be well and safe and never do anything risky," she said. "But knowing my dad, we realize that he is cut out for this kind of a thing. And we support him 100 percent."

Shahrokh Afshar, a pastor for The Iranian Church On The Way in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles, said the guards sounded confused in the recording but remained respectful.

"They weren't sure if he was there protesting or if he wanted to visit someone," Afshar told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Romero hopes to raise awareness about Christian prisoners Farshid Fathi, Saeed Abedini, Mostafa Bordbar and Alireza Seyyedian. All were imprisoned because of their faith, Afshar said.

"Their greatest sin was leaving Islam to follow Christ," he said.

"All of these five prisoners are prisoners of faith and conscience," Romero's daughter said.

The non-Christian, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, is a human rights advocate and lawyer who defended dissidents. He began serving a nine-year prison sentence last year on convictions that included spreading propaganda against the system.

Abedini has been detained since September 2012. The U.S. government has previously called for the release of Abedini and two other Americans who have been subjected to lengthy detentions.

In 2008, Romero was arrested in China during the Beijing Olympics after demanding the release of five Chinese activists. In Beijing, Romero painted on the walls of a hotel room and then went on the run for 21 days before surrendering in Tiananmen Square. Chinese authorities held Romero for approximately 24 hours before putting him on a flight home, Yetter said.

Romero retired as a pastor from Hacienda Christian Fellowship in La Puente, Calif., in July. He founded Exodus8one in 2008 and is currently a world religion and philosophy professor at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.