By Heather Clark
TEHRAN – An appeals court in Iran has rejected an appeal on behalf of an American pastor incarcerated in one of the most notorious prisons in the country, and has refused to reduce his sentence despite growing international pressure.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been fighting for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who lives in Idaho with his wife Naghmeh and two children, reports that they have learned that the decision was handed down on Sunday by a two-judge panel in Tehran. It notes that one of the judges, Ahmad Zargar, had been sanctioned by the European Union for punishing peaceful protesters in the nation with long-term jail sentences, and in some cases, death sentences.
As previously reported, Abedini was arrested last year for allegedly threatening the national security of Iran by planting house churches a decade ago, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. He had traveled to Iran to build an orphanage last fall, and was about to return to the states when he was taken into custody. Abedini was then sentenced to eight years in Iran’s Evin Prison, where he has served time for nearly one year.
“While we remained hopeful that Iran would use its own appeal process to finally show respect for Pastor Saeed’s basic human rights, again Iran has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights,” commented Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ. “We are exploring all options with Pastor Saeed’s family, including options in this country and abroad to bring more pressure on Iran from the U.S. and other countries around the world. The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran’s continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression.”