Supporters of a Boise pastor jailed in Iran say they're hopeful a judge could decide his case next week.
Saeed Abedini's lawyer presented his defense Monday in Iranian court, telling a judge that the dual Iranian and U.S. citizen, who converted to Christianity from Islam 12 years ago, was motivated to start a network of house churches because of his faith, not a political agenda.
It will be the 32-year-old's only chance to defend himself against criminal charges stemming from his work in his home country, which occurred several years ago, said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice. The conservative Christian organization is helping Abdeini's family at no cost. His wife and children, ages 4 and 6, are at home in Boise following his trial, which began Monday.
Other pastors who worked with Abedini in his home churches have been summonsed by prosecutors and could testify Tuesday "without Saeed being able to present a defense," Barrans said.
"It's a negative all around," Barrans said.
Barrans is monitoring the case from Washington, D.C,. and stays in close contact with Abedini's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, in Boise whom she described as resilient.
"Naghmeh's faith is nothing short of miraculous," Barrans said. "Any other wife would be beside themselves..She knows God is in control."
Abedini is an ordained pastor through the Calvary Chapel church. He does not practice at the church in Boise, but he and his family are members there and church members are anxiously following his case. Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action, as have Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson.
Abedini was held in Iran in 2009 before being released and promising not to continue Christan humanitarian efforts there. ACLJ officials say Abedinis most recent trip was a humanitarian effort to help build an orphanage and was not aimed at converting anyone to Christianity, which is outlawed in Iran.
The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, has been the only source of information regarding Abedini's case. A reporter from Iranian government on Monday said a judge had granted Abednini bail, but the center said Iran has refused to comply and Abedini is not expected to be released.
Abedini has been in an Iranian prison since September after being on house arrest for about two months. His mother, father, sister and brother live in Iran and remain on house arrest, though his father was allowed to attend his trial on Monday. Iranian law calls for judges to issue rulings within 10 days of a court hearing. Some judges still will take months or years to do so, Barrans said, but Abedini's lawyer, Naser Sarbazi, of Iran, said the judge assigned to the case, Pir-Abassi , is known for quick rulings.
He's also notorious for harsh sentences like hangings, according to the ACLJ.
Barrans said the Iranian government's statement that Abedini had been granted bail was a political motivated one aimed at deflecting media attention.
"The regime very much wants the American media to stop covering this case, and the fastest way to do that is make it look they're being reasonable and he is being released" Barras said.
But Barrans said a judge approved Abedini's release on bail months ago but the government hasn't complied when his family shows up with the necessary paperwork.
Abedini was in prison for about a week after the raid on his family's home in September before his wife knew of his whereabouts. She received a phone call from him in prison only after threatening to tell journalists about the case. Then four weeks later, she again threatened to speak to journalists, prompting Iran to offer Abedni bail. They did so again in December after she again threaten to speak to the press. But on both occasions they were denied his release after presenting Iranian officials with bail documents.
"It is a game to the regime," Barrans said.
The American Center for Law and Justice launched a public awareness campaign Dec. 16 in hopes of bringing Abdeini home safely.