By Nicholas Muiruri
Iranian authorities on Saturday released four Americans including Saeed Abedini, an evangelical pastor. President Obama has been under pressure from activists to push for the liberation of the pastor as part of a nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran.
Pastor Abedini is a Christian, who converted from Islam. He hails from Boise, Idaho. The Iranian government put him in prison in 2012. Iranian courts convicted him on account of organizing home-based churches. Christians across the world cited religious persecution putting the Middle East region on the spot. His release came at the most appropriate time in the U.S., the “religious freedom day.”
Speaking to the Washington post, Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor’s wife spoke of how she woke up her kids early on the day their father was released. The couple has two children, Rebekka who is nine years old and Jacob who is seven years old.
During his incarceration, Naghmeh had been advocating for his release. She regularly posted updates on social media and spoke at Christian conferences all over the United States.
In 2013, Iran convicted Saeed Abedini for threatening its national security. Before his arrest and conviction, Abedini formed small churches in people’s houses in a country whose population is predominantly Muslim. Abedini is an Iranian by birth. He changed his nationality in 2010 when he chose to take up U.S. citizenship. During his visit to Georgia in July 2012, he made attempts to enter Iran. He intended to visit his parents; however, authorities confiscated his passport and arrested him. They would later send him to prison in September 2012.
In November, his wife backtracked from the outstanding support she gave him. In an email to her supporters, she accused Pastor Abedini of being an abusive husband. In her emails, she claims that trouble in her marriage started in 2004.
Writing at the time, Naghmeh confirmed that her husband had an addiction to pornography. She attributed her sexual, psychological, emotional and physical abuse to the addiction. She wrote that the abuse worsened during his jail term in Iran.
Naghmeh regretted the timed leakage of her emails to media. She said that she would wait until her husband arrived back home before addressing these issues. She added that her husband endured torture during interrogation, but did not know his present state. Nonetheless, he would have to undergo a medical examination to assess his emotional and physical state.
Abedini is a member of the Calvary Chapel, a nondenominational church in Boise. She said that she was not sure of his future status as a pastor despite the fact that it was something close to his heart. She added that Pastor Abedini had an uphill task of dealing with issues affecting him. Also, the family will require time to heal.
The U.S. evangelical community will address her abuse claims in due course considering the role she has played as an advocate of religious freedom. Russell Moore, the head of the Baptist church commission on religious liberty, expressed shock at Naghmeh’s statement.
In securing Saeed Abedini’s release, Iran made a nuclear deal with six world powers. In exchange for the release of Abedini, the U.S. would release six Iranian convicts serving sentences in the United States.
Moore, an opponent of the nuclear deal, stated that he had no belief in exchanges involving prisoners. Despite his views, Moore was quick to point out that opposing the plan did not prevent him from celebrating when certain prisoners were set free.
On her part, Naghmeh echoed her stance against religious persecution in the Middle East. She stated that from her Christian background, she believed God gave everyone the freedom even to practice atheism. She added that her husband’s experience had opened her eyes to the suffering people of different religious background undergo.
Like her husband, Naghmeh Abedini is an Iranian by birth. Her parents relocated to the U.S. and changed citizenship. Naghmeh was nine years old at the time. After her husband’s sentencing, she quit her project management job in a manufacturing firm to travel and defend him.
She said that her husband’s incarceration strengthened her Christian faith. Commenting on his release, Naghmeh said that one had to find peace despite the tribulations facing them. She added that the family had put their trust in God’s timing, and the release of her husband was an appropriate time.
In an opinion article in The Washington Post and addressed to President Obama, Nagmeh wrote of the agony they endured as a family. She was hopeful that her husband would get his freedom through the nuclear deal with Iran.
In her comments on Saturday, she spoke of the frustrations at the meetings held with U.S. State Department officials. She described their attitude as condescending on travel warnings issued against Iran. However, when John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State intervened and pushed for Saeed Abedini’s freedom in 2013, she rekindled her hopes.
According to Johnnie Moore, an activist for Christians living in the Middle East, Pastor Abedini’s prison term has earned him global fame. Moore hailed the release as symbolic for people held in captivity on account of their faith. However, Moore was critical of the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran.
Moore accused the United States of ceding too much ground, stating that if such exchanges become the norm it would provide an incentive for kidnappers.
Jordan Sekulow, an official from a religious organization that has assisted the family in the past, termed the exchange as an opening for Abedini’s freedom. Sekulow hailed the U.S. government for its decision to negotiate with Iran.
Many Christian leaders had in the past put President Obama’s administration to task urging the government to secure Abedini’s release. Reverend Bob Schenck recalls begging John Kerry not to forget Pastor Saeed Abedini’s case. That was during a 2013 memorial service held in honor of the late Nelson Mandela.
Schenck urged Christians to be grateful for the fact that despite all circumstances surrounding Abedini’s release, the pastor would finally join his family after a long period of separation. Rev. Schenck also fired a salvo at religious conservatives telling them to give credit to President Obama’s government.
Iran released other prisoners including Jason Rezaian, a reporter with Washington Post, Nostratollah Khosravi Roodsari and Amir Hekmati from Flint, Michigan.
The subject of religious freedom has come out hugely during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaigns. Candidates have showed support for protecting Christians in the Middle East and other regions.
Speaking during the “religious freedom day,” President Obama stated that everyone deserved the dignity to practice their faith.