Pope, Iran's president both in US: No better time for Iran to release Pastor Saeed

Saturday marks the third anniversary of American Pastor Saeed Abedini’s imprisonment in Iran because of his Christian faith. During the last three years, there have been extensive efforts made to secure his freedom.

But now – in the days ahead – represents perhaps the most unique and important opportunity to raise Pastor Saeed’s plight on a global stage.

As part of his visit to America, Pope Francis – a champion of religious liberty and often a voice for suffering Christians – addresses a joint session of Congress and meets with the United Nations General Assembly.

Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, is attending the pope’s address to Congress as a guest of Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C. There are news reports that President Obama may ask the Pope to intercede with Iranian officials on behalf of Pastor Saeed and the other Americans imprisoned in Iran.

Iran should act now because the world is watching. And there’s no better time for Iran to release Pastor Saeed – to make a statement to the world – a humanitarian gesture of goodwill.

Naghmeh is hopeful that the pope will get involved.  “It’s been always my hope that the pope would get involved,” said Naghmeh. “He has a powerful voice to the Iranian government.”

We know that the pope’s words carry great weight. His message of the need to protect religious freedom – and safeguarding the rights of Christians worldwide – is certain to resonate here in this country and we hope in Tehran, as well.

In addition to the pope meeting with world leaders at the U.N., Iranian President Rouhani will speak at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.  He’s also expected to hold talks with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and heads of state.

This is the perfect time for Iran to act – to release Pastor Saeed and other Americans held captive. Iran should act now because the world is watching. And there’s no better time for Iran to release Pastor Saeed – to make a statement to the world – a humanitarian gesture of goodwill.

As Naghmeh prepares to join millions in prayer on Saturday, which marks her husband’s third year of imprisonment, she continues to work tirelessly to secure his freedom.

In the run-up to President Rouhani’s appearance at the U.N., Naghmeh met with U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power who pledged to continue to raise Pastor Saeed’s case with Iran and other countries at the U.N.

This past weekend, Naghmeh addressed more than 100 members of Parliaments from nearly 50 countries across the globe at a gathering hosted by the International Panel of Parliamentarians in New York. Following Naghmeh’s presentation, 67 Parliamentarians signed a letter to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.

The letter urged Iran to free Pastor Saeed and others imprisoned because of their faith and called on Iran to live up to its “international obligations” which guarantees freedom of religious or belief for everyone.

At the ACLJ, we launched a massive letter-writing campaign with more than 265,000 people urging Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to bring up Pastor Saeed’s case directly when he meets with President Rouhani in New York and to do everything in his power to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen.

We know Pastor Saeed continues to face life-threatening conditions inside his prison cell. In a visit today with a family member, Pastor Saeed revealed that in the past few days he had been forcibly removed from his cell and was beaten, tasered, interrogated, and told he would face additional unspecified charges. The unprovoked attack by prison officials came without warning.

He is in need of medical care – his physical condition worsening as a result of the new beatings and injuries he has received from beatings in the past.

Even during these trying times, Pastor Saeed said he continues to hold on to hope that one day he will be reunited with his family.

Naghmeh Abedini, her children, and millions around the world continue to hold on to that very same hope.

It’s time for Iran to release Pastor Saeed and the other Americans.

And there’s no better time to do just that than in the days ahead – with the pope advocating religious liberty – with Iran front-and-center on the world stage at the U.N. – and as Pastor Saeed marks his third anniversary in prison.

President Rouhani, send Pastor Saeed home.