Hundreds gather for prayer vigil for Boise pastor held in Iran

September 26, 2013 

0927 local prayervigil08

Naghmeh Abedini holds her daughter Rebekka Grace Abedini, 7, during a prayer vigil seeking freedom for her husband, Boise pastor Saeed Abedini, who was arrested in Iran one year ago. About 600 people gathered at the steps of the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on Thursday, Sept. 26 to pray for his release. Rebekka Grace sang "Here I Am To Worship," a song she would sing with her father each night at bedtime, with everyone in attendance.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

About 600 people gathered at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on Thursday to pray for the release of Boise pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been held in Iran for one year.

Our story from earlier this week:

Abedini has exhausted all legal avenues for fighting an eight-year sentence in his home country, and he no longer has an Iranian attorney, according to a spokeswoman for the advocacy group aiding his family.

But supporters across the globe aren’t giving up fighting for his release. Thursday will mark a year since Abedini was taken from house arrest and put in the notorious Evin Prison.

Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, flew to New York City on Sunday to engage in a media blitz that would keep her husband in the news during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly. She was able to get a letter from her husband to Iranian officials Monday, when the delegation passed through the lobby of the hotel where she’s staying, ONE UN New York.

“It just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe it,” Naghmeh Abedini said by phone from New York City on Monday night. She gave copies of the letter to a guard in the president’s security team and, later, a member of the Iranian delegation.

“They both promised they would give it to the president,” she said.

Saeed Abedini, a 33-year-old Iranian-American, was convicted in January of “threatening the national security of Iran” by promoting Christian home churches in the early 2000s. He had lived in Boise with his wife and two children since 2005 and traveled to Iran last summer to help plan a new orphanage there.

Abedini is one of three Americans held in prison in Iran. The others are former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati (held since 2011 on accusations of being a spy) and former FBI agent Robert Levinson (missing in Iran since 2007; Iran has denied having any knowledge of his whereabouts).

Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which is working with the Abedini family, said the State Department should demand the release of the American prisoners as a “precondition” of meeting with Rouhani.

“This is a key moment,” Barrans said.

SOME RELEASED EARLY. WHY NOT ABEDINI?

Last week, Iranian officials announced the release of a dozen political prisoners.

Hours after Rouhani left for New York City, the release of another 80 prisoners was announced. Abedini wasn’t among them.

Under a new law, prisoners who have served at least one-third of their sentence can sign a criminal confession and request a pardon, Barrans said. Abedini also would have to recant his faith.

“As a Christian, he’s not willing to do that,” Barrans said.

Abedini’s attorney in Iran has backed away from the case for the protection of his own family and to avoid ending up in prison. Attorneys who represent Christians in Iran may be disbarred or tried for crimes, Barrans said.

“They are considered complicit in the crimes of their clients for representing them in a court of law,” Barrans said.

One of the biggest cases of Christian persecution in Iran this year occurred in June, when the oldest Persian-language Protestant church was shut down. Robert Asseriyan, pastor at a Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran, was reportedly arrested during a church service in May and imprisoned for more than a month.

LETTER TO PRESIDENT

In Saeed Abedini’s letter to President Rouhani, he explains that his primary intention in returning to his native Iran was to open orphanages in cooperation with the government. He said he founded the Morning Radiant Star Center in Rasht, where his father was born.

“My purpose in all my attempts in my hometown was to reduce pain and suffering as well as compassion for the poor, orphans and unaccompanied children in accordance with religious rules and the sole intention of pleasing my Savior, Jesus Christ,” he wrote.

Abedini’s letter told the president that he’s an official with the 50-year-old Assemblies of God Church, and in 2010 was called to the Ministry of Information to explain his involvement.

“After listening to my words, security officials ensured that I could continue working at the aforementioned church and house churches that I used to work at,” he wrote.

IMPROVING HEALTH

During his visit last September, authorities raided his parents’ house and arrested Abedini. He said he was in solitary confinement for four months, a period he describes as “exhausting and tormenting.”

Abedini’s father was able to see him at the prison Monday. His health has improved — and there’s been no word of beatings since May — but he’s “very emotional,” Naghmeh said.

He missed his daughter’s 7th birthday last week. He and Naghmeh also have a son.

“It was just another reminder that the kids are growing up without him,” Naghmeh said.

At the vigil Thursday, Rebekka Abedini may sing one of the songs her father sang to her at bedtime — “Savior” or “Light of the World.”

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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