An Iranian court rejected an appeal from Saeed Abedini, the American Christian pastor held in Iran for his Christian faith, and refused to reduce the eight-year prison term his supporters believe is tantamount to a death sentence, according to his family and lawyers.
Abedini, 33, an American citizen who lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two children, has been held in Iran’s Evin Prison since September, following his arrest on a bus. His supporters say he has been beaten and tortured in the prison, and that he was only in Iran to try to start a secular orphanage.
“While we remained hopeful that Iran would use its own appeal process to finally show respect for Pastor Saeed's basic human rights, again Iran has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini’s wife and their two children.
“We are exploring all options with Pastor Saeed’s family, including options in this country and abroad to bring more pressure on Iran from the U.S. and other countries around the world. The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran’s continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly and expression.”
Abedini’s attorneys were hopeful that new Iranian President Hasan Rowhani, who took office this month, would show more clemency in religious persecution cases. Instead, Abedini's legal team is now more fearful that the latest legal setback could mean he'll face additional beatings and abuse inside the notoriously brutal prison.
The decision to reject Abedini's appeal came yesterday from the Tehran Court of Appeals and was handed down by a two-judge panel that refused to provide Abedini's Iranian attorney with a written copy of the decision, according to his attorneys.
One of the judges issuing the decision, Judge Ahmad Zargar, was previously sanctioned by the European Union for issuing long-term sentences and death sentences for peaceful protesters.
Abedini, who was first arrested for evangelizing in his homeland more than a decade ago, claims he was freed and told by authorities he could return to visit family as long as he refrained from spreading his faith. But when he went back to Iran last year to help build a secular orphanage, he was arrested.
“The news out of Iran is devastating to our family,” said Naghmeh Abedini, who believes her husband's only hope for freedom lies with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Naghmeh Abedini also expressed disappointment in the U.S. government.
“My husband is serving eight years in the notorious Evin prison and facing daily threats and abuse by radicals because he refuses to deny his Christian faith," she said. "I am extremely disappointed that President Obama has chosen to remain silent on this critical human and religious rights case of an American imprisoned in Iran.”
Although President Obama has not spoken out on Abedini's plight, the State Department, which has no diplomatic relations with Iran, has condemned his continued imprisonment.
The decision rejecting the appeal comes just one month before the first anniversary of his imprisonment. Prayer vigils are planned in the U.S. and around the world for Sept. 26 and a website, www.savesaeed.org has been made to help spread the word.
Lisa Daftari is a Fox News contributor specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.