Accused of proselytizing in his home country of Iran — where it is illegal to preach Christianity to try to convert someone — Saeed Abedini has been condemned to prison, according to the American Center for Law and Justice and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s office.
Abedini, a 32-year-old father of two young children, was found guilty of threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in fostering Christian house churches.
Brad Hoaglun, a spokesman for Risch, said the Idaho senator’s office confirmed the sentencing with federal officials. Risch, who sits on foreign relations and intelligence committees, is working to get more information about the situation before speaking publicly about it.
The U.S. State Department issued a written statement Sunday condemning Iran’s “continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion” and calling for Abedini’s release.
Hoaglun said Abedini, whose wife and two children are safe in the Treasure Valley, was convicted on a charge stemming from his involvement in house churches in 2009, not any recent activity.
Abedini traveled to Iran last summer to visit family and to help in getting an orphanage built. He was put under house arrest in June, then imprisoned in September.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, told Fox News on Sunday that a friend of Abedini’s in Iran had tried 20 times to put up the $100,000 in bail, but authorities rebuked him.
Sekulow said eight years in prison in Iran is a de facto death sentence.
“We know lots of cases there. They don’t ever let you out after eight years,” Sekulow said, citing the case of a blogger who was allegedly beaten so badly in Tehran’s Evin Prison that he was dead within a week of his arrest.
That blogger was 35-year-old Sattar Beheshti. He died in the same prison where Abedini is being held.
Sekulow said Abedini can appeal the ruling, though only within the Revolutionary Court. He also noted that Iran’s supreme leader — the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — could release Abedini.
Abedini, who was born in Iran and became a U.S. citizen, was ordained through Calvary Chapel in Boise. On his Facebook page Sunday, Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, asked for prayers.
Sekulow called for action.
“We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest,” he said on the ACLJ website. “We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.”
Risch and fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo have signed letters urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action, as have Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson.
Abedini and his attorney were permitted to attend just one day of his trial, according to the ACLJ. He has been beaten and tortured during his imprisonment, Sekulow said Sunday.
Abedini was held in Iran in 2009 before promising not to continue Christian humanitarian efforts there.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413