The wife of Saeed Abedini, the American pastor imprisoned in Iran, has requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama.
In a letter addressed to Obama yesterday, Naghmeh Abedini – who has campaigned tirelessly for her husband's release since he was arrested in 2012 – asked the President to grant her a meeting when he visits her hometown on Wednesday.
Obama is due to visit Boise, Idaho following his State of the Union Address which will be given later today.
In her letter, Naghmeh appealed to the President as a father. "Since the Iranian government took my husband, Saeed Abedini, almost 3 years ago, I have been praying and wanting to meet with you. With each of my travels to Washington D.C., I hoped that I would get a call, or an invitation to see you and to speak with you," she writes.
"To have you look into my eyes and see the piercing pain that has been there since my husband's imprisonment; to see my kids and to know that they have missed the warm embrace of their dad for nearly three years."
"You are a father," Naghmeh continued. "Imagine the pain and anguish Saeed has experienced knowing that he has missed seeing his children grow up. The last time Saeed held his daughter she was 5; now she is 8. Imagine the repeated nightly cries of my children, only for them to wake up each morning to that reality that his absence was not a bad dream. You are a father, so I ask you to imagine."
Pastor Saeed is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran for "threatening the security of the state". He began developing home church communities for Christian converts, who are forbidden from gathering in Iran's public churches, 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 Musilm-led country.
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 his eight-year sentence.
Naghmeh has repeatedly challenged the US government to speak up for her husband, and has criticised the administration's failure to respond with the urgency called for by campaigners. "I thought I would have to fight the Iranian government. I never anticipated that I would have to battle my own government," she said during a 2013 congressional hearing in Washington.
In yesterday's letter, Naghmeh called on Obama to live up to his pledge to protect America and its citizens.
"My husband loves this country," she wrote. "You speak about the need to protect religious freedom and human rights. Saeed is imprisoned merely because of his Christian faith. My husband has committed no crime – he chose to exercise his God-given right to choose his own faith."
She concluded her letter with a request for a meeting, which she says would "go a long way in instilling faith that the leader of our country considers our sufferings important and that you are committed to reuniting our family."
Concern for Pastor Saeed has grown following reports that he has received brutal treatment in prison. Iran has a long history of human rights abuses and has laws allow the persecution of minority communities. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said a recent speech that house churches as well as the Baha'i movement – a strain of Islam – are forms of animosity toward the nation.
More information about Pastor Saeed's case and a petition calling for his release can be found at the Be Heard Project website.