“What do you want for your birthday?” Naghmeh Abedini asked her daughter.
Naghmeh knew there was no way she could give her daughter what she — what hundreds of thousands of people across the world — so desperately wanted.
“How many more birthdays will he miss?” Rebekka asked. She turned six without her dad there to blow out the candles. — then, seven.
But her mom had no answer for her children who have now been without their father for over a year.
The ordeal began when her husband, Saeed, went back to his home country of Iran. Born a Muslim, he converted to Christianity 12 years ago and even became a pastor. However, he wanted to give back to his former country by establishing a government-endorsed, secular orphanage. He was busy hammering out the details for the facility that was to open in the northwest.
It was normal for Saeed to spend time in Iran. He’d travelled to, from, and within his home country many times before without having any issues. In fact, his parents still live in Tehran. But, early last summer as he was finalizing the orphanages’ board members, Revolutionary Guards grabbed him off a bus for an intense interrogation. Afterward, they put him under house arrest at his parents’ house and told him to wait for a court summons.
He faced criminal charges for his Christian faith.
On September 26, 2012, five members of the Revolutionary Guard appeared at Saeed’s parents’ home. Instead of carrying a summons, they had chains. They raided his parents’ home, took Saeed’s belongings, bound him and took him away.
For four days, no one knew his location. Then, the family was told the horrifying news that Saeed was in solitary confinement at one of the world’s most brutal and infamous places: Evin Prison. Situated at the foot of the Alborz Mountains, this prison houses 15,000 inmates — rapists, murderers, and (over the years) dissidents, reporters and ayatollahs.
Its low-slung walls hide unspeakable atrocities. Without the benefit of attorneys or other advocates, the prisoners suffer torture, mock execution, rape, lashing and sleep deprivation. Saeed was, in fact, beaten and told he would be hanged for his faith in Christ. His cellmates threatened to suffocate him while he slept.
Soon, he developed infections and was in severe pain. However, because he’d converted to Christianity, he was considered an “infidel” and denied medical treatment. Unsurprisingly, his conditioned worsened to the point that doctors determined he had internal bleeding and needed to receive immediate medical care outside of the prison. The Iranian regime ignored these instructions for an agonizing month. Finally, they beat Saeed, forced him to change his clothes into the prison uniform designated for murderers and took him to a hospital. Once there, he was still denied treatment.
In the meantime, his lawyers (at the American Center for Law and Justice, for whom my husband is senior counsel) spread the word about his case and argued his case before the United Nations. Christian artists (such as Toby Mac, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman) made video pleas for his release; prominent politicians like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz advocated for his freedom; Billy Graham weighed in on Saeed’s cause; and #SaveSaeed popped up in Twitter feeds everywhere. Secretary of State John Kerry, the White House, and the House of Representatives and multiple nations all have asked for Pastor Saeed’s release. Almost 700,000 people have signed petitions on behalf of Saeed and 177,000 sent letters. In September, President Obama even personally asked Iran’s President Rouhani to release him.
Throughout at least some of his imprisonment, Saeed’s family could visit regularly and show him photos of his children and wife. When told of all of this activity back at home on his behalf, Saeed was touched (particularly because he was a fan of those Christian artists).
Monday, however, things got incredibly worse for Pastor Saeed. When his family went to the prison for their scheduled visitation, they were told he’d been taken an hour-and-a-half drive away to the town of Karaj. There, he is being held in the infamous Rajai Shahr Prison — a facility even more dangerous than the first. Fox News, when reporting this tragic development, quoted a Dutch Diplomat who described Rajai Shahr prison:
“Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there, one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human-rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: Many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.”
When a citizen’s life is at stake, there are no longer Republicans or Democrats … just Americans. The ACLJ has proposed a critical resolution in the Senate calling for Pastor Saeed’s release, which has garnered tremendous bipartisan support.
“How many more birthdays will he miss?” Saeed’s daughter asked.
President Obama must speak out — forcibly and loudly — to save Pastor Saeed’s life … If not for the sake of religious freedom, at least to make Saeed’s children’s birthday wishes — and the prayers of hundreds of thousands — come true.
Add your name to the growing number of Americans asking the president to intervene here.