Our View: U.S. moves too slowly for Idaho captives

September 25, 2013 

Just as we did back in June when Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl faced his fourth anniversary as a prisoner in Afghanistan, today we acknowledge the anniversary of the imprisonment of another Idahoan, the Rev. Saeed Abedini. He remains in a Tehran jail one year after his arrest and conviction in Iran for the crime of helping the Iranian people.

On the surface, it might not appear that the Hailey soldier and the Boise pastor have a lot in common. One is in the U.S. Army and the other is a soldier of Christ. But both are U.S. citizens, and both are being held against their will. That alone should be enough for the U.S. government to apply every resource necessary to seek their immediate freedom.

We wish President Barack Obama could marshal the moral outrage and courage to act today beyond mere statements. Unlike Syria, these cases do involve American lives. It’s true that Sgt. Bergdahl and Abedini willingly put themselves at risk in service to their callings, but that doesn’t mean we have to adopt the timetable of their repressive captors for their release.

As we have seen in the case of Bergdahl, one year can tragically become two, three and four.

On Tuesday the president directed Secretary of State John Kerry to explore negotiating with Iran to establish better relations. It is an iffy path that even Obama acknowledges might have “roadblocks” too great to overcome.

One roadblock has to be the pastor Abedini, who essentially was jailed for attempting to evangelize in Iran nearly a decade ago. He ceased his church-building efforts in Iran in 2005 and came to Idaho, the home of his wife, Naghmeh. He later was told that he could return to pursue humanitarian efforts; he did so last year, assisting his Iranian parents in building a shelter for orphaned Iranians. Though he claims he was engaged in purely humanitarian work, he was arrested by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime for missionary efforts years earlier.

In this country, we don’t arrest people for peacefully practicing their faith or sharing it with others. We especially don’t arrest them for building orphanages after giving them permission.

We understand the delicate nature of international negotiations that involve American lives, but our negotiations with countries that promote terrorism, such as Iran, should begin with the release of so-called “prisoners of conscience,” such as Abedini, not negotiations toward that end.

Given the circumstances and wishes of the Bergdahl and Abedini families, we join them in keeping alive the consciousness of the plight of their loved ones. Naghmeh Abedini has worked tirelessly on her husband’s behalf. On the steps of the Idaho State Capitol on Thursday, she will remind the world of her husband’s first year in Evin Prison, suffering as he serves an eight-year sentence.

We’ve said before in the case of Bergdahl, and we repeat now in regard to Abedini, that getting Americans home safely is the goal. But the pace we have adopted in Bergdahl’s case is something no American family should have to endure. It can’t become the accepted pace for the Abedinis.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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