BOISE, Idaho (BP)—“Be patient and endure.” From an Iranian jail cell, Saeed Abedini penned those words in a letter to his daughter Rebekka for her seventh birthday this year.
But as the American pastor marked a year in Iran’s brutal Evin Prison with no hint of a coming release, “enduring” is taking a toll on his wife and two children in Boise, Idaho.
Rebekka and her brother Jacob, 5, know they’re growing up without their father present to mark milestones or sing to them at bedtime. Abedini’s wife Naghmeh—who hates flying—keeps an intense travel schedule speaking and lobbying for her husband’s release, according to WORLD Magazine.
To a degree, she’s seeing some payoff. On the heels of President Obama expressing concern for Abedini during in a Sept. 27 phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the European Parliament called on Iran’s government Oct. 10 to release the pastor and seven other prisoners. Human rights lawyer Attieh Fard also addressed the issue of Iran’s mistreatment of Christians at a Sept. 24 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging Rouhani to release 42 Iranian Christians in prison and 45 awaiting trial, according to World Watch Monitor, a religious liberty advocacy organization.
“It is obvious that the Islamic government of Iran has taken actions to prevent access of both Christians and the public to Christian societies, to churches, to Christian literature and religion, despite the Christians’ constitutional, national and international rights,” Fard said. “Now that Iran has said it is committed to its international obligations, it should in fact start to take measures to protect these constitutional rights.”
Iran’s constitution permits religious minorities to assemble, but at least 300 Christians have been arrested in recent years in Iran, according to World Watch Monitor. One of those was Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced a death sentence for his faith. His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, also got handed a nine-year sentence he’s currently serving alongside pastor Benham Irani, who has struggled with major health issues in prison.
After a worldwide campaign for Nadarkhani’s release, he was acquitted Sept. 8, 2012. He walked out of prison 18 days before Abedini was arrested in Iran while working on plans to start an orphanage with permission from the government.
Now Abedini’s wife is praying for a miracle similar to Nadarkhani’s.
“We just celebrated—or actually not celebrated, but did a prayer vigil for him on the one-year anniversary,” she said during an Oct. 6 interview with National Public Radio. Though she quickly corrected her word choice, in some ways it was a somber celebration for the Abedinis—their husband and father is still alive.
Evin Prison “is like a death sentence,” she said in an interview with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “It is surprising that he has survived this year.”
Abedini has been beaten and bled internally without medical care, and he was told by an interrogator that he would hang for his faith. To reinforce the message, police killed two other prisoners in front of him, according to WORLD Magazine. Naghmeh Abedini said her husband also has been forbidden to talk to her and their children for the duration of his eight-year sentence.
As she works to get the kids to school and to bed through the days, weeks and months, she does so with only the occasional letter from her husband. But her faith stays strong.
In September, she saw a direct answer to prayer when she encountered Rouhani in her hotel lobby in New York and was able to hand deliver a letter from her husband to one of the Iranian president’s delegates.
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