A Thanksgiving dinner place for Saeed Abedini

(Patrick Mahoney/Facebook)A Thanksgiving dinner place for Saeed Abedini outside the White House

As millions of Americans sit down to Thanksgiving dinner today, there is one person who will not be able to join them - Iranian pastor and US citizen Saeed Abedini who is incarcerated in an Iranian prison. 

As an expression of solidarity with Abedini and his family, Americans are setting an extra place for him at their Thanksgiving dinners.

His family and supporters have been campaigning relentlessly for his release, and the Christian Defense Coalition has taken the message all the way to the White House in Washington DC where it has set up a Thanksgiving place outside.

It is hoped the gesture will remind US President Barack Obama to stand up for religious freedom and the persecuted church around the world, as well as work for the release of Pastor Abedini. 

The group will also be holding a prayer vigil for the pastor, who was this year sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of undermining national security. 

Reverend Patrick J Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said: "While Americans enjoy the blessings of spending Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, it is important to remember that millions around the world are being brutalised, persecuted and attacked for their Christian faith. Thousands are in prison.

"Pastor Saeed will not be able to spend this special day with his wife and two young children, but instead will be spending it in a cramped prison facing constant violence and persecution.

"We can never be silent when it comes to issues of human rights justice and religious freedom. We must always be a loud prophetic voice in the public square calling for an end to the persecution and violence directed toward people because of their faith beliefs."

Mr Mahoney criticised the US Administration's silence on Pastor Abedini's plight in negotiations with Iran over nuclear arms. 

"We will also be reminding President Obama that while he celebrates Thanksgiving with his wife and two children, Pastor Saeed will be spending Thanksgiving in a brutal Iranian prison separated from his wife and two precious children," Mr Mahoney continued.

"Sadly, the President has not be a loud and active voice for the persecuted church around the world. This was clearly seen in the recent negotiations with Iran when the Obama Administration did not even raise the issue of Pastor Saeed or religious freedom.

"We pray and hope that while President Obama is thanking God for all the wonderful blessings of the past year, he would pause and reflect on the fact that his silence and lack of engagement on the issue of religious freedom has created untold hardship for millions of Christians across the globe."