On the day he was confirmed as Secretary of State, John Kerry went farther than his predecessor had in condemning Iran for imprisoning an American citizen, a Christian pastor who was sentenced this week to eight years in prison for evangelizing in the Islamic Republic.
Kerry, the longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts, made the statement in response to a written query from fellow Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who asked if Kerry, as secretary of state, would join the National Security Council’s call for Saeed Abedini’s release.
“We remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini's trial,” Kerry told Rubio. “I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him.”
Abedini, a 32-year-old father of two, denied evangelizing in Iran and claims he had only returned to his native land to help establish an orphanage. Authorities pulled him off a bus last August and threw him into the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.
The exact crimes he is accused of only became public on Monday, when the prosecutor outlined charges that Abedini undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and that he was attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam. Rubio and other supporters of Abedini believe the charges stem from Abedini’s 2000 conversion to Christianity and his involvement several years ago with house churches in Iran.
Although Abedini’s lawyer is appealing Monday’s sentence, experts following the case think Abedini’s only chance at freedom lies with a grant of clemency from the religious clerics that rule Iran. The State Department under outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was criticized by Abedini’s supporters for not doing more to win his freedom, even though the U.S. has not had diplomatic ties with Iran since the 1979 revolution there.
“It's encouraging to see Sen. Kerry condemn Iran and call for the release of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini. His recognition and involvement in Pastor Saeed's case would send a very strong message to Iran and to the rest of the world - the imprisonment of a U.S. citizen because of his religious beliefs is simply unacceptable,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director for the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a written statement.
“With his confirmation today and his soon-to-be swearing-in, Sen. Kerry has a unique opportunity to put a global spotlight on this case and come to the aid of an American who is facing years of beatings and torture because of his faith," Sekulow said. "It is our hope that as secretary of state, Sen. Kerry will engage this issue fully and put the full weight of his office behind efforts to free Pastor Saeed.”