By Edward Lee Pitts
WASHINGTON—For the first time publicly President Barack Obama on Thursday (Feb. 6) named two U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas for their Christian beliefs and called for their release.
Obama, speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, said he prays for Kenneth Bae and Saeed Abedini. Bae is a Christian missionary who has spent 15 months in captivity in North Korea and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Abedini has been held in Iran for more than 18 months and is facing eight years in prison for his Christian beliefs.
The president said the United States would “continue to do everything in our power” to secure Bae’s freedom and called on the Iranian government to release Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, so “he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.”
The remarks came as Obama asked those gathered at the Washington Hilton to pray for all prisoners of conscience.
“Let’s imagine what it must be like for them,” the president said. “We may not know their names, but all around the world there are people who are waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment, simply because they are affirming God. And I hope that somehow they hear our prayers for them, that they know that, along with the spirit of God, they have our spirit with them as well, and that they are not alone.”
Obama devoted most of his speech to international religious freedom, calling it central to the dignity of a person. “To harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God,” he said.