Saeed Abedini's wife to pray outside the White House

Published 20 January 2014  |  

Nagmeh Abedini with her husband Saeed and their two children

Naghmeh Abedini is asking supporters to join her in praying for the release of her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran.

Pastor Abedini began developing home church communities for Christian converts who are forbidden from praying in public churches in Iran more than a decade ago.

He was first arrested in 2009, but was later released after pledging to stop formally organising house churches in the Muslim-led country.

However, he was arrested for a second time upon returning to Iran in 2012 to help build a state-run, secular orphanage and was held without charges until January 2013, when he received an eight-year prison sentence for 'threatening the security of the state'.

His wife Naghmeh has demonstrated unwavering commitment to securing the release of her husband since his initial arrest, and recently stood before a congressional hearing in Washington during which she challenged the US government to speak up for Pastor Saeed.

She criticised the administration's failure to respond with the urgency called for by those campaigning for her husband's release, saying: "I thought I would have to fight the Iranian government. I never anticipated that I would have to battle my own government."

Pastor Saeed has now been incarcerated for almost 500 days, and his condition is said to be worsening as a result of suffering repeated beatings, torture and long periods of solitary confinement at the hands of his jailors. However, the US government is yet to call specifically for his release, and failed to set the return of Pastor Saeed to his family as a pre-condition to negotiations with the Iranian government.

His supporters are demanding to see "action behind our government's rhetoric", and a stronger response to the persecution of Christians around the world.

Naghmeh and her supporters will thus stage a peaceful protest in front of the White House on March 8 where they will pray for Pastor Saeed's release and for positive action from the Obama administration.

It is illegal to hold a stationary protest in front of the White House – protestors are permitted to carry signs but not to kneel in prayer – and those who take part on March 8 therefore risk arrest.

"I have made the decision to be arrested in front of the White House because of my love for my husband," says Naghmeh.

"There is not one stone I would not leave unturned to secure his release.

"I knew in my heart that this decision did not come out of rebellion against my husband or disobedience, but it came out of love for my husband and the persecuted Christians. That it came out of love for those who are in chains because of their faith in Jesus."

A Facebook campaign, "I stand with Nagmeh" has been launched to gather support for the protest, and some church leaders will begin protesting from today, January 20, which marks the national holiday to honour Dr Martin Luther King Jr in addition to the beginning of face-to-face nuclear talks between the US and Iranian governments.

Reverend Patrick J Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington DC labelled the Obama administration's position as "tragic".

"[It] has shown no public commitment toward securing the release of Pastor Saeed from a brutal eight-year Iranian prison sentence or embracing religious freedom and the persecuted church around the world," he said.

"President Obama has shown more interest and passion in protecting birth control in health care than he has in reaching out to a family whose husband and father is being daily brutalised for his Christian faith or standing for religious freedom and the persecuted church.

"Pastor Saeed is an American citizen and pastor, yet President Obama has never once called his wife, Naghmeh, giving her encouragement or pledging US support for his release."

Supporters are being asked to stand in solidarity with Pastor Saeed, Naghmeh and the persecuted church either physically in Washington in March, or through persistent prayer.

A petition is also available at www.beheardproject.com/saeed

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