The US government has been challenged to do more to secure the release of imprisoned Iranian pastor and US citizen Saeed Abedini.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs met in Washington on Thursday to discuss the worsening treatment of Pastor Saeed Abedini who is currently serving an eight year jail sentence in Iran.
Congressman Chris Smith, who chaired the committee, detailed the extent of the horrific treatment of Pastor Saeed, an Iranian-born American who has been subjected to beatings, torture and solitary confinement as a result of his Christian faith.
Pastor Saeed has also recently been moved to Rajai Shahr, Iran's most dangerous prison reserved for its worst criminals.
The committee hearing follows disappointment over US Secretary of State John Kennedy's meeting with Iranian ministers in which he failed to mention the plight of Pastor Saeed or ask for his release.
Ongoing negotiations are taking place between the two nations, but congressmen and witnesses noted yesterday that the US government has failed to insist on the release of US prisoners, including Pastor Abedini, as part of those negotiations.
"Every conversation between the US government and the Iranian government should start and end with Pastor Saeed," asserted Mr Smith.
"Don't we owe it to him as a nation to stand up for his human rights and his freedom?"
"His case needs to be front and centre in the next round of US-Iranian negotiations," he asserted.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen condemned the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in Iran, reminding those present that it is not only Christians that face the brutal violation of human rights, but also the Baha-i community and other minority faith groups.
Ms Ros-Lehtinen called upon Iran to respect the rights of its citizens, and said: "We are standing with them [the persecuted] in solidarity, and will continue to press for Pastor Saeed's release."
"His is not an isolated incident," she warned. "It is symptomatic of the Iranian government's hostility towards Christians.
"Others have received 80 lashes for drinking consecrated wine, some have been thrown into prison for distributing Bibles."
"We must hold Iran accountable for these things," she finished.
Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, implored the Obama administration to insist that her husband is returned home.
"I thought I would have to fight the Iranian government. I never anticipated that I would have to battle my own government," she said.
Mrs Abedini expressed her disbelief and horror that her husband's "own government did not fight for his release when sitting across from his captors".
"We need to see action behind our government's rhetoric," she demanded.
She shared personal stories about her family's struggle, showing a picture of her two young children's first day of school.
Mrs Abedini spoke of a concern that the abhorrent treatment of her husband at the hands of his captors is "an experiment" and argued that the US administration's failure to respond with the urgency called for by those campaigning for Pastor Saeed's release is setting a dangerous precedent.
"The Iranian government is testing how strong our President is. How serious is he about American security? Will he respond immediately to protect and defend?
"We are sending a dangerous message to the world," she warned.
Mrs Abedini ended her address with a reading from Isaiah 9, underlining that both she and her husband remain steadfast in their faith in the face of persecution and an uncertain future.
Congressman Smith closed the hearing with a call for the US government to make Pastor Saeed's case "a priority".
"Please don't let this case be discussed on the margins," he urged.