US-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini threatened with new charges

With Saturday marking the third anniversary of his arrest, and days after Parliamentarians appealed on his behalf – and days before President Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly – Middle East Concern reports that the prospects for Saeed Abedini have considerably worsened.

A family member was able to visit Saeed yesterday at Rajaei Shahr Prison, and learned that new charges may be brought against him. Since Saeed was imprisoned, the government has repeatedly said that his eight-year sentence could be extended.

On Tuesday (22nd September) intelligence officers interrogated Saeed. He told family members the interrogators abused him verbally and physically. During interrogation officers repeatedly used a taser gun.

The interrogators said Saeed will face new charges. They claimed he has connections with anti-government groups and has made statements and taken actions against the government. Saeed denies these allegations. He has consistently asserted, during interrogations and at trial, that he poses no threat to the government and was in Iran to help with the building of a government-approved orphanage.

This development comes as Iran’s President Rouhani is about to address the UN General Assembly in New York next week. This Saturday, the third anniversary of Saeed’s imprisonment, there are due to be hundreds of prayer vigils around the world for Saeed and his family.

Last weekend, Saeed’s wife Naghmeh spoke to more than 100 Parliamentarians from nearly 50 countries at a gathering hosted by the International Panel of Parliamentarians. Following Naghmeh’s presentation, 67 Parliamentarians signed a letter to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.

The signatories of the letter came from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malawi, Myanmar, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Taiwan, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

The letter begins:

As the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, we write as a network of parliamentarians from diverse political, religious and geographical backgrounds to express grave concerns about limitations on freedom of religion or belief in your country. We are alarmed by ongoing reports of violations of this fundamental freedom for religious minorities, including Christians and the Bahá’ís. We respectfully ask you to ensure that all individuals in Iran, be they Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Atheist, Zoroastrian, Jew or from another faith, can fully enjoy freedom of religion or belief without fear of violence or discrimination.

We are particularly concerned about Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been jailed for nearly three years. We understand he has been held in intolerable conditions for merely peacefully exercising his faith in private homes. We specifically request the release of Mr. Abedini, as well as other Christians…

These 67 Parliamentarians raised their voices for Pastor Saeed and other religious minorities persecuted in Iran, speaking directly to their counterpart in the Iranian Parliament. Several members of Parliaments also committed to leading efforts in their own countries to pressure Iran to release Pastor Saeed.

In 2009 Saeed had been warned about his involvement with house churches and so had focused on humanitarian activities during subsequent visits to Iran. Saeed was detained in 2012, while visiting his parents and conducting humanitarian aid work, and in January 2013 he was convicted on charges relating to anti-state activities (derived from his involvement with house fellowships) and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Saeed has joint Iranian-US citizenship; his wife Naghmeh and their two children are in the US.