Saeed Abedini is accused of harming Iranian national security, apparently by converting from Islam to Christianity and founding Christian house churches. This kind of persecution manifests the fundamental fear, insecurity, and brittleness of the Islamic Republic. An update on this story. “‘I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus’: American pastor faces death sentence in Iran,” by Robert Tait in the Telegraph, January 18 (thanks to The Religion of Peace):
An American Christian pastor faces a possible death sentence in Iran after prosecutors accused him of harming national security on charges he and his supporters claim amount to religious persecution.
Saeed Abedini, 32, who is Iranian born, is expected to go on trial next week before a revolutionary tribunal in Tehran in a hearing presided over by a judge blacklisted by the European Union for handing down harsh verdicts.
US officials have already voiced concerns over the fate of Mr Abedini, who has been held in custody since July 2011 after being arrested while on a visit to Iran from America.
His wife, Najmeh, says he has suffered beatings during interrogation and has expressed fears for his life in letters to her.
“This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus,” Mr Abedini, a father-of-two, wrote in one letter. “One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.”
The origins of the charges against Mr Abdini are not clear. But the American Centre for Law and Justice, a Christian advocacy group founded by the evangelist preacher, Pat Robertson, said it was connected with starting a home church movement.
“His court file indicated that this national security charge was directly related to his work starting a house church movement in Iran,” the organisation said in a statement.
Harming national security is a capital crime under Iran’s legal statute. Critics say it is vaguely defined and used to suppress opponents of the country’s Islamic regime.
Mr Abdini, who converted to Christianity at the age of 20, was building an orphanage near the city of Rasht on the Caspian Sea, fuelled by a belief that the Bible teaches helping widows and orphans, according to his wife.
He was detained in 2009 but later released after agreeing to sign a commitment not to engage in religious activities such as working in underground churches.
Mr Abidini had travelled to Iran nine times since his detention before being arrested again. “He had no worries that he would be arrested, believing that he kept his end of the promise and that the government would keep their end,” she told AFP.
He has not had access to a lawyer since being re-arrested, she added.
She also said one of his interrogators had told him that Iran’s theocratic rulers feared that “if the country is not following Islam, then we have less control over [its people]”.
Mr Abdini is expected to be tried by Abbas Pir-Abassi, a judge subject to EU sanctions for human rights violations after sentencing several activists to death.
While Iran’s constitution recognises the rights of religious minorities like Christians and Jews, the authorities have targeted Christian converts. Apostasy is punishable by death under the country’s shariah code.
The US state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, has expressed “serious concerns” about the case.
However, 49 US congressmen have urged the state department to call for Mr Abdini’s release, saying the government could do more despite not having diplomatic relations with Iran.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a panel advising American policymakers, has called on Iran to release Mr Abedini “immediately and unconditionally.”