Amid Congressional debate over President Barack Obama’s proposed Iran nuclear deal, family and friends of an imprisoned American are pleading for his release to be a part of the agreement. Now entering his third year in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison, American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to face harsh treatment. Prison guards targeted him on Aug. 6 when they raided his cell for no apparent reason, according to reports from Human Rights Activists News Agency Iran. Clear information about Abedini’s condition is not available, as all the relatives who are permitted to visit him are currently out of the country and the Iranian government has rejected the request for phone calls with his wife and family in the U.S., according to reports. Born and raised as a Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000, becoming an American citizen in 2010 following his marriage to his wife Naghmeh, who is also an American citizen. After his conversion to Christianity, Abedini began working with house churches in Iran which, though technically legal, drew complaints from the government. He then agreed to shift his work towards non-religious humanitarian efforts. While visiting non-religious orphanages in September 2012, Pastor Abedini was arrested on charges of threatening national security. He was sentenced to eight years in prison; he has now served nearly three years. Iran is notorious for harassment and imprisonment of religious minorities and human rights dissenters, including Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Zoroastrians, and even minority Sunni and majority Shi’a Muslims, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Now advocates are calling for Congress to reject the deal unless Iran agrees to release imprisoned Americans, including Pastor Abedini. “Whatever benefit the Iranian regime believes it may receive from continuing to hold Pastor Saeed and the other Americans, the American government and the international community must make clear that unjustly imprisoning innocent men and continuing its hostage tactics will only result in Iran’s continued outcast from the international community,” Tiffany Barrans of American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini’s wife in the U.S., said in a recent post. Three other American citizens — former Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, and Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian — are also being held in Iranian prisons for what critics call “politically motivated charges.” “The Iranian government wants the world to look the other way while these individuals, prosecuted under bogus charges and without any semblance of due process, languish in Iranian prisons,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran in a recent statement. Mrs. Abedini has testified before Congress about her husband’s imprisonment. “For the past 3 years I have been carrying with me a deep excruciating pain knowing that my husband continues to suffer yet another day in one of the worst prisons in the world,” she told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in June. Every year since her husband’s arrest and imprisonment, Mrs. Abedini has held a prayer rally calling for his release and asking for prayers for all persecuted Christians. This year the rally will be held on Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C. with other vigils hosted around the world. She has asked pastors and church leaders to pray for persecuted Christians during their regular Sunday services on Sept. 27.
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