Boise & Garden City

Saeed Abedini beaten in prison, had use of cellphone much of the time

Naghmeh Abedini and supporters of Saeed pray during a rally at Boise State University ahead of a visit from President Barack Obama on Jan. 21, 2015.
Naghmeh Abedini and supporters of Saeed pray during a rally at Boise State University ahead of a visit from President Barack Obama on Jan. 21, 2015. Idaho Statesman file

After Saeed Abedini was released from an Iranian prison on Jan. 16, questions were raised about his treatment and his access to the outside world during his nearly four years there.

Details could not be positively confirmed, but reports from a United Nations observer; Facebook posts by his wife, Naghmeh; and news reports from within Iran shed light on the plight of the Boise pastor who was imprisoned for practicing Christianity in Iran.

Abedini, 35, grew up Muslim in Iran. He converted to Christianity in 2000 and set up a series of underground house churches where Christians could pray away from the prying eyes of Iranian religious and government leaders.

Naghmeh, whose family came to Idaho when she was 9, felt a calling in 2001 to return to Iran to minister to Muslim women. Like Saeed, she grew up Muslim and later became a Christian. The following year, she met Saeed at an underground church in Tehran, where he was leading a worship service.

They married in a Christian service in Tehran in 2004 and moved to Idaho the following year.

During a family visit to Iran in 2009, Saeed was arrested and later agreed to give up his house church activities. For the next four years, he made repeated trips to Iran to establish a government-sanctioned orphanage.

In July 2012, Saeed was removed from a bus and arrested. He was later charged with undermining the national security of Iran for his house church activities and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Q: What kind of abuse did Saeed suffer?

An independent observer appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council reported that Saeed suffered internal injuries from beatings he endured and was denied medical care. Doctors who examined him in March 2013 said he needed immediate hospitalization, but it took a month before he was treated.

In a January 2013 letter, Saeed said he was held for three months in a room that was constantly lighted and that he suffered “intense pain” following several beatings by Iranian government officials.

In that same letter, Saeed said he was told that he would be hanged for his faith in Jesus. He also reported receiving death threats from other prisoners, who told him he would be killed in his sleep.

The U.N. observer also reported that Saeed was taken to a private Tehran hospital in April 2013, where he was forced to wear a uniform reserved for people convicted of murder. When he refused to wear the uniform, he was beaten. After forcing him into the uniform, guards paraded him around the hospital and told him that he couldn’t be treated because there were no doctors there, the U.N. said.

The American Center for Law and Justice reported last summer that Saeed was beaten by a group of prisoners. The incident took place as he was trying to leave his cell, officials said.

Q: Did he have access to a cellphone in prison?

Naghmeh Abedini wrote last month on her Facebook page that Saeed was able to use his phone after he had been in prison for six months. Naghmeh said she talked with him six to eight hours a day at times. She also said he used his smartphone to watch movies using Naghmeh’s Amazon account and viewed pornography on his phone.

Saeed has not addressed that accusation, other than to say some public allegations about him are not true. But other sources say access to phones inside prisons in Iran is far from unheard of.

In a first-person account for Time magazine, Matthew Trevithick, who was among four other Americans released at the same time as Abedini, said he was able to use his phone during his 41 days at Evin Prison. Saeed spent the first year and a half of his sentence at the same Tehran prison.

In a story published online in December on IranWire, which relies on citizen journalists to report on events in Iran, reporter Fereshteh Nasehi said phones were popular among prisoners at Rajaei Shahr Prison outside Tehran, where Abedini spent his final two years.

“Prisoners who can afford to buy smartphones now spend most of their time online. And the Internet makes access to porn much easier, but, of course, smartphones must remain hidden from prison guards,” Nasehi wrote.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

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