US Senate calls for release of pastor Saeed Abedini

Pastor Saeed AbediniACLJ file

The US Senate has called for the release of American detainees including pastor Saeed Abedini, a convert to Christianity from Islam.

In a debate on the resolution, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called on the Obama administration to "use the tools it has in pursuit of what should be a bipartisan goal: securing the release of American citizens being held as hostages by the regime in Iran."

Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 for having "undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and ... attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam."

The Senate heard that other Americans wrongly imprisoned in Iran include Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and former marine Amir Hekmati.

McConnell said: "One of those Americans, Saeed Abedini, has reportedly been held prisoner for what would appear to be the supposed 'crime' of attempting to build and operate an orphanage. Beaten, denied access to medical care, and locked away in solitary confinement - that's apparently how the Iranian regime deals with those who dare to show love and compassion to others."

He added: "No American should find this acceptable. Just as no American should find it acceptable to unjustly imprison a reporter, or a grandson coming to see his grandmother. I think we can all agree that, at the very least, the American government should not be rewarding Iran for its disgraceful human-rights abuses - that we should not be granting Iran access to the funding it desires to further its nuclear weapons program and terrorist proxies while this exploitation continues."

Abedini, an Iranian who converted in 2000, married his American wife Naghmeh in 2002 and they became active in the Iranian house church movement. In 2010 he was granted American citizenship. The Senate resolution was sponsored by Senator James Risch of Idaho, the home state of Pastor Saeed Abedini and where his wife grew up and still lives with their two young children.

The American Centre for Law and Justice, which is running a petition demanding no deal with Iran without Pastor Saeed and has been working closely with his wife on campaigning for his release, noted that these are the same US senators who will review and vote on any finalised nuclear deal with Iran.

The ACLG said: "In light of the upcoming Senate review of any nuclear deal with Iran, today was an important statement that Senators are prioritising the freedom of Pastor Saeed and the other US citizens imprisoned in Iran."