Kerry urged to press Iran on imprisoned pastor, Marine

As high-ranking officials from Iran and the U.S. hold the first face-to-face meeting in three decades, a more grim milestone is being marked by the American citizen and Christian pastor who has now spent exactly one year behind bars in Tehran for his faith.

Saeed Abedini, 33, of Boise, Idaho, was imprisoned last September for allegedly proselytizing, and sentenced last February to eight years in the infamous Evin prison. His wife, Naghmeh, and other supporters are praying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presses Abedini’s case when he meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, along with representatives from five other world powers.

Kerry is also being encouraged to push Zarif on the case of Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine also being held in Iran. Hekmati, who went to Iran last year to see his ailing grandfather, was charged with being a spy.

“The new president of Iran wants the world to believe Iran is changing. He is talking about improved diplomatic relations and has even released a few political prisoners,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Abedini’s wife and their two children. “Now, it's time for him to prove it – to initiate a new era of human rights and dignity in Iran – to release Pastor Saeed.”

In March, Kerry made a public statement calling for Abedini’s immediate release.

Several lawmakers have also sent letters and signed petitions demanding Abedini’s release. On the one-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment, Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., drafted a new letter to President Obama on behalf of several congressional colleagues.

Naghmeh Abedini has not traveled to Iran for fear of also being arrested. But this week, with Iranian leaders in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, she hand-delivered a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani begging for her husband’s release.