Free Saeed Abedini
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American Christian pastor, is wasting away in Tehran’s Evin prison
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American Christian pastor, is wasting away in Tehran’s Evin prison. Recently released from solitary confinement his health is said to be failing despite being a relatively young man. Beatings and torture have led to kidney issues and internal bleeding.
What is Abedini’s crime? Did he butcher an Iranian soldier on a street corner in Tehran? Did he explode a bomb in a crowd of bystanders or on a Tehran bus? Was he arrested for conspiring to commit some atrocity against innocent civilians?
No, Abedini’s crime is his advocacy of Christianity in Iran. This is compounded by his conversion from Islam in 2000.
In the early 2000s Abedini, and his wife Naghmeh, became involved in the promotion of Iran’s house church movement. In Iran, converts are not allowed to worship with Christians in the established churches, so they have turned to setting up underground house churches where they may congregate with fellow believers. Since his conversion, Abedini is said to have helped establish nearly a hundred such house churches with more than 2,000 other Christians in 30 cities throughout Iran.
When Mahmoud Ahmedinejad became Iran’s president in 2005, the government cracked down on the house church movement. The Abedinis moved to the United States, but continued to support their co-religionists.
In September 2012, on a return trip to visit family and continue his work setting up an orphanage, Abedini was arrested, his passport confiscated, and he was jailed in the notorious Evin prison. In January 2013, he was sentenced to an eight-year term for allegedly “endangering national security” and committing “crimes against the Islamic Republic.”
The real crime
Abedini’s conversion to Christianity apparently represents a threat to Iran’s regime so serious that his arrest is intended as a clear message to other Muslims not to stray from a pre-designated line of thinking.
His case underscores both the iniquity of the Iranian regime and its fundamental weakness. Like any totalitarian regime, Iran’s rulers seek to control not only people’s behavior but also their thoughts. The theocracy of the mullahs tells its subjects not only what they may and may not do, but also what they can express, feel, or believe.
The weakness of Iran’s rulers’ claims is so obvious that they cannot withstand the airing of a different point of view, whether religious or political. The state’s surveillance and control extends into every aspect of life. What is evident is that the Iranian theocracy, like fascism and communism before it, seeks to engineer a new type of self-censoring citizen and, if unsuccessful, always seeks to crush the individual under its heel.
At Evin prison, Abedini’s fellow inmates include many of the students and others who participated in the 2009 national protests against the oppressive theocratic rulers. Evin prison is a hellhole, but it is also a hall of honour populated by Iranians of differing religious and political persuasions who have refused to stop thinking for themselves and are paying an extremely high price for their integrity.
The U.S. State Department has expressed its concern about Abedini’s condition but otherwise has done little to press for his liberation and return home to his wife and two young children. The relative lack of involvement by the State Department reflects Edmund Burke’s admonition that “there is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”
So far, concerned private groups and religious organizations have led the campaign to inform the world and seek Abedini’s freedom. 270,000 people have signed a petition demanding his release. More importantly, the case of Saeed Abedini has helped focus worldwide attention on the daily humiliation imposed on an honourable people. The focus might also send hope to the thousands of other prisoners whose names have been forgotten and whose voices have been temporarily silenced by Iran’s wardens.
Fernando Menéndez is an economist and principal of the Cordoba Group International LLC, a strategic consulting firm providing economic and political analysis to clients. Sign the petition to free Saeed Abedini here
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