An Idaho senator is delivering a powerful appeal to Iranians on behalf of the Christian pastor imprisoned in Tehran for his faith, with a videotaped message timed to air on Voice of America just before tomorrow’s elections in the Islamic republic.
Sen. James Risch, a Republican who represents the state where Saeed Abedini lived with his wife and two children until the pastor was arrested last summer during a visit to his homeland, has already recorded the appeal, which is aimed directly to the people of Iran.
“An American citizen from my hometown of Boise, Idaho, Pastor Saeed Abedini, is currently being held in the Evin prison for practicing his faith and helping children in your country,” Risch says in the 54-second video which is dubbed in Farsi. “For this and many other reasons, the citizens of America support your hope for freedom and democracy and wish you well as you find the path to a brighter future.”
In his appeal, Risch referenced the controversial 2009 elections and called on Iranians to press for freedom and democracy. The election, to pick a successor to outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, begins tomorrow. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on June 21.
Voice of America, the official broadcast channel of the U.S. government, airs around the world via radio, television, satellite and Internet. Programs and messages are carried in 43 languages and are broadcast into nations around the world, including many whose governments are hostile toward the U.S.
Abedini, 33, has now served nearly 300 days in prison, separated from his wife Naghmeh, who recently spoke to international diplomats in Geneva on her husband’s behalf.
Abedini has suffered long stints in solitary confinement, and, according to his family and attorneys in Iran, beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates inside the brutal gulag. For months, he reportedly has been suffering from serious injuries, including internal bleeding from beatings, with no proper medical attention. Experts consider the conditions so extreme that Abedini’s eight-year term is seen as a veritable death sentence.
Abedini left his wife and two young children in Boise, to travel to his homeland last year to visit family and help build a state-run, secular orphanage on family-owned land. Although he had made many such visits in recent years, this time he was pulled off of a bus in September and taken to prison.
More than a decade ago, Abedini began working as a Christian leader and community organizer developing Iran’s underground home church communities for Christian converts who are forbidden from praying in public churches. He was arrested in 2009, but released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches in Iran.
After spending months imprisoned without any notice of charges, Abedini was sentenced Jan. 27. More than 600,000 people around the world have signed the petition at SaveSaeed.org calling for his release.