Pastor Abedini 'unable to recognise' himself after beatings
There is a new letter from imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Abedini written to his wife, Naghmeh, and his family in Iran.
In it, as in his previous two letters written inside the brutal Evin Prison, he documented the results of his continued abuse and torture.
According to a story by Jordan Sekulow for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the letter, most likely written weeks ago, was just received by his family.
The ACLJ said written on the margins of scraps of newspaper, it is only the third letter Abedini has been able to get to his family in almost 180 days of imprisonment. It underscores the difficulty of getting any information from Iran about his condition.
The ACLJ said Abedini wrote he was unable to recognise himself from all the beatings and torture he has endured. He said, "My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown."
After multiple beatings in interrogations at the hands of his captors, the ACLJ said Abedini wrote that the nurse who was supposed to treat injured inmates told him, "'In our religion we are not suppose to touch you, you are unclean. . . . Christians are unclean!'"
He explained, "They would not give me the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because I was unclean."
The ACLJ wrote this further confirmed that until this week, Abedini had not received any medical treatment.
Because of the immense pressure from the international outcry of hundreds of thousands who have demanded his release, Iranian officials have promised him medical treatment. The ACLJ said this new letter shed light on how difficult it will be to ensure that Iran keeps its word.
In his letter, the ACLJ wrote, Abedini also shared how he had personally witnessed the toll his imprisonment has taken on his parents and how he longed to once again be with his wife and children.
He wrote, "You, my wife, on the other side of the world, alone with the kids. Alone and worried. My family here in Iran, being interrogated, tired and under so much pressure."
Even through all the persecution, the ACLJ said Abedini remains resilient in his faith. He wrote of the importance of forgiveness, even to the point of forgiving the interrogators who beat him and the doctors who refused to treat him.
He said we must all forgive, "So that we don't become like the person we despised and who persecuted and tortured us."
He told of the power he had witnessed through forgiveness when after telling one of his persecutors to his face that he forgave him, the interrogator came to "respect" him.
"Love is as strong as death," the ACLJ said Abedini explained. He concluded, "The joy of the Lord is my strength."
The ACLJ commented, "This is another powerful testament of his Christian faith and his eternal hope that one day he will again be free to return to his wife and kids in America. It is critical that we redouble our efforts and do all we can as a nation for this imprisoned pastor, one of our own, a U.S. citizen."
Not surprisingly, Abedini's captivity is having a huge effect on his family. According to a story by CBN News Washington Correspondent John Jessup, Abedini's wife Naghmeh explained how difficult it is to explain to their two children, Rebekka, 6, and Jacob, who just turned 5, why their daddy suddenly lost contact with them.
"We didn't know where he was for a week," CBN said Naghmej testified Friday before the Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"They kept coming to the computer saying, 'Mommy, can we see daddy? Can we hear his voice?' And I kept saying, 'No, you can't.' I couldn't explain to them why -- that he was physically taken to prison," she continued.
"And finally they kept saying, 'Does daddy not love us anymore? Does daddy not want to hear our voices anymore?' And I had to tell them that he was imprisoned because he loved Jesus," CBN reported Naghmeh said.
CBN said Friday's hearing highlighted the plight of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran -- especially for Baha'i and Christian converts. Many are arrested, detained, or executed.
Abedini's attorneys said his eight-year sentence amounts to a death penalty. His family in Iran said he's been tortured, beaten, and is now bleeding internally.
However, hope could be on the horizon.
The ACLJ said it is pleased that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just issued a public statement expressing concern for Abedini.
The statement, issued while Secretary Kerry was traveling in the Middle East, called on Iran to release Abedini immediately.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said in an ACLJ statement, "We're very pleased that Secretary of State Kerry made this bold and public statement calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed."
He added, "By speaking out directly on behalf of Pastor Saeed, Secretary Kerry is taking our government's most aggressive action yet in working to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen. We also appreciate Secretary Kerry calling attention to Pastor Saeed's worsening health. By becoming directly involved in this case, the U.S. sends a powerful message to Iran and our allies - our government will not stand by and abandon one of our own. By engaging the Pastor Saeed case at the highest level, we're hopeful that the State Department will now do everything in its power to secure the release of this U.S. citizen."
The ACLJ reported Naghmeh said, "I am very encouraged by Secretary Kerry's statement demanding Saeed's immediate release."
She added, "I am very happy to read that although Secretary Kerry has asked for medical treatment for Saeed, he does not stop there, and states that the best outcome is Saeed's immediate release. I hope to see more proactive actions from our government. Saeed and I are both proud to be Americans. I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States."
Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."