Saeed Abedini, the Boise minister held in an Iranian prison for nearly three years, was arrested by Boise Police on Sunday on a misdemeanor charge of violating a no-contact order.
Abedini, 37, appeared in court Monday where he pleaded not guilty and was assigned a public defender.
In January 2016, a judge told Abedini that the only contact he was to have with his estranged wife, Naghmeh, was via text or email for matters concerning their two children. At Abedini’s court hearing on Monday, an Ada County prosecutor said Abedini violated the no-contact order by sending derogatory, name-calling text messages to Naghmeh.
The context of the messages wasn’t clear, nor did prosecutors say when or from where the messages were sent. Abedini told Magistrate Judge Thomas Watkins he left Boise nine months ago, moving to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he continues to work as a minister.
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Watkins set a $500 bond for Abedini, who remained in the Ada County Jail on Monday afternoon.
Saeed Abedini grew up in Iran and is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000, moved to Idaho with Naghmeh in 2005 and became a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen in 2010. For some time in Iran, he organized underground “house churches,” where groups of Christians worshiped.
On a 2009 family visit to Iran, Saeed was detained at the airport and he agreed to cease all house church activities. For the next few years, he traveled back and forth to Iran to build an orphanage. But he was detained again in July 2012 on charges of evangelizing and sentenced to eight years in prison. Saeed said he was imprisoned for “being a Christian and refusing to renounce my faith in Jesus Christ.”
He suffered internal injuries from beatings he endured and was denied medical care during his imprisonment in Iran.
Naghmeh Abedini brought nationwide attention to her husband’s plight in advocating for his release. Then-President Barack Obama met with her during a trip to Boise in 2015 and pledged his support. Three friends from North Carolina, including the Rev. Franklin Graham, also worked for Abedini’s release.
Naghmeh filed for legal separation from her husband the day he arrived back in Boise, five days after Saeed was released from the Rajai Shahr prison in a January 2016 prisoner exchange.