The wife of a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress to work for his release, while voicing the consolation they have found in their Christian faith. “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,” stated Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been a prisoner in Iran since September 2012. But despite the difficulty of being separated from her husband, and her fears for his safety, she said that God has granted them a “supernatural peace and strength that is covering our family today.” Naghmeh Abedini joined other family members of Americans imprisoned in Iran at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 2. The hearing focused on the plight of four Americans: Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, and Robert Levinson. “I continue to be concerned about the safety and health of these prisoners, who are being held in some of Iran’s harshest, most violent prisons,” stated Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the committee’s global human rights subcommittee. “They languish there in part because Iran’s judicial system lacks consistent independence, fair public trials, due process, privacy for an accused, and is rife with interference from government and religious officials,” he said. 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. The U.S. State Department has acknowledged having talks with Iran to release the American prisoners on the “sidelines” of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. A framework for the deal has been agreed to and the agreement is expected to be finalized this summer, but the fate of the prisoners is not directly tied to the deal. Advocates of the prisoners, including members of Congress, have asked that their release be part of any nuclear agreement. Shortly after the hearing on Tuesday afternoon, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution expressing “the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should release all detained U.S. citizens and provide any information it possesses regarding any U.S. citizens that have disappeared within its borders.” Born and raised as a Muslim in Iran, Saeed Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000, becoming an American citizen in 2010 following his marriage to his wife Naghmeh, who also is an American citizen. After his conversion to Christianity, Abedini began working with house churches in Iran. Although his work was technically legal, it drew complaints from the government, and he 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. Human rights groups following the case have claimed that the true reason for the imprisonment was the pastor’s Christian faith and his conversion away from Islam. According to reports, he has suffered solitary confinement and beatings that resulted in internal bleeding during his time in prison. In her Congressional testimony, Naghmeh Abedini shared her fears for her husband’s physical and psychological health, acknowledging the stress his prolonged absence has put on their family, as she has had to travel and leave their two children at home to publicly advocate for his release. “The reality is, we are a family torn apart,” she said. But despite this strain, they have not given up, she continued, likening their situation to that recounted in the Book of Daniel of the three Israelites thrown into the fiery furnace because of their faith. Miraculously, they were unharmed, and another man appeared in the flames next to them. “Jesus was with them,” Naghmeh stated. “He was the fourth man in the furnace. In the midst of the fiery furnace Jesus did not abandon His own.” “During the last 3 years Jesus has never abandoned Saeed and me,” she said. “He has been with us during the fiery furnace even when the furnace had been heated seven times hotter than usual. He has dried every tear and has given us the strength to endure.”
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