John Kerry says US will continue to call for release of Saeed Abedini
The State Department's 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom was released yesterday, and imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini was mentioned in the document several times.
The report highlighted cases of injustice across the globe, but Secretary of State John Kerry placed special emphasis on Abedini during his presentation.
"In Iran, U.S. Iranian citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned," he said. "The Iranian authorities sentenced him to eight years behind bars simply because of his religious beliefs.
"We will continue to call for his release and we will continue to work for it. And make no mistake: We will continue to stand up for religious minority communities under assault and in danger around the world, from Jehovah's Witnesses to Baha'is to Ahmadi Muslims.
"So we have a long way to go to safeguard these rights. We also have a long way to go when governments use national security as an excuse to repress members of minority religious groups."
Abedini, who became a Christian in 2000, was arrested in September 2012 for proselytizing, but maintains that he traveled to his native country to help build a state-run orphanage. He has been beaten by inmates and guards while incarcerated, and was temporarily transferred to a hospital after suffering internal injuries from the assaults. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in January 2013.
The International Report described what government interventions have been made on Abedini's behalf.
"The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and therefore has limited opportunity to directly raise concerns with the government over its religious freedom abuses and restrictions," the report read.
"On several occasions, however, senior U.S. government officials, including the President and the Secretary of State, raised directly with their Iranian counterparts the case of Christian pastor and dual U.S.-Iranian national Saeed Abedini, who is being held on charges related to his religious beliefs, and called for his release.
"The Department of State also publicly called for the release of Mr. Abedini and other prisoners held on religious grounds."
The Be Heard Project hosts a petition calling for Pastor Abedini's release, and has received over 280,000 signatures. The Project is also calling for a worldwide prayer vigil on September 26, 2014 – the two-year anniversary of Abedini's arrest. For more information, visit BeHeardProject.com.