Backgrounder: Pastor Saeed Abedini

U.S. Citizen Imprisoned in Iran for His Christian Faith

QUICK FACTS
Name:    Saeed Abedini (pronounced "sy-EED ah-bed-EE-nee")
Date of Birth: May 7, 1980 (35 years old)
U.S. citizen since:  March 11, 2010 (naturalized)
Spouse:   Naghmeh (pronounced “nog-MAY”)
Children: Daughter, Rebekka, (8 years old) and son, Jacob (7 years old)
Family resides in: Boise, Idaho
Prison: Rajai Shahr, Karaj, Iran (formerly in Evin Prison, Tehran, Iran)
Imprisoned for: 980 days (as of June 2, 2015)
Trial date:  Jan. 21, 2013
Conviction date:  Jan. 27, 2013
Charge:  Crimes against the national security of Iran (for prior involvement with Christian house churches)
U.S. family attorneys: American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Washington

 

TIMELINE

2000—Saeed converts to Christianity and starts house churches in Iran.

2002—Saeed and Naghmeh meet in Tehran.

2004—Saeed and Naghmeh marry in Tehran.

2005—Saeed and Naghmeh leave Iran for the United States, where Naghmeh has lived since she was in the fourth grade.

2009—Saeed returns for a visit to Iran with Naghmeh and their children. After being arrested in the airport, Saeed makes an agreement with authorities to cease all house church activities. In response, the government gives permission for him to come and go freely from Iran. The Iranian government encourages Saeed to do humanitarian efforts, like creating orphanages.

2009 – 2012—Saeed travels to and from Iran safely eight times to build a government-approved orphanage in Rasht, Iran.

March 11, 2010—Saeed becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen.

July 1, 2012 – Saeed goes to Iran to approve the final board members for the orphanage.

July 28, 2012—Iranian Revolutionary Guards take Saeed off a bus at the border of Turkey and Iran, days before Saeed's planned return to the U.S. Saeed is interrogated and put under house arrest at his parents’ home in Tehran.

July 30, 2012—Naghmeh retains the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a constitutional and human rights law advocacy group based in Washington and with offices around the world.

July 31, 2012—The ACLJ notifies the U.S. State Department of Saeed's situation in Iran.

Aug. 4, 2012—The first call is held between the U.S. State Department and Naghmeh. Naghmeh is told there was nothing the State Department can do but monitor the situation. The ACLJ and Naghmeh request that the State Department quietly engage with various countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran.

Sept. 26, 2012—Five Iranian Revolutionary Guards raid the Abedini family home in Tehran. Saeed is taken to Evin Prison, where he is subjected to four weeks of solitary confinement. His whereabouts were unknown to his family for the first four days of his imprisonment.

Jan. 18, 2013—In a statement from the National Security Council, the U.S. government publicly demands Saeed's release, 174 days after the American pastor's initial arrest in Iran on charges related to his Christian faith.

Jan. 20, 2013—Saeed is allowed to meet with his Iranian lawyer for the first and only time, less than 24 hours before his trial.

Jan. 21, 2013—Saeed's trial is held before Iran's notorious "hanging judge," Judge Abbas Pir-Abassi, a Revolutionary Court jurist who has been sanctioned by the European Union for human rights abuses.

Jan. 25, 2013—Both the U.S. State Department and the White House condemned Iran for its imprisonment of Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen. Both called on Iran to release him.

Jan. 27, 2013—Saeed is convicted of "undermining the national security of Iran" for working with Christian house churches between 2000 – 2005. He is condemned to eight years in prison—a judgment the ACLJ calls "a virtual death sentence."

Feb. 4, 2013—Saeed's appeal is filed with the trial court.

March 3, 2013—Saeed communicates to family in Iran that he may be suffering from internal bleeding due to repeated beatings and torture while in prison.

March 22, 2013—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issues the first public statement from his office calling on Iran to "immediately release" Saeed.

April/May 2013—Twice, Saeed is taken to a private hospital, but each time is refused medical treatment. After sustained beatings, Saeed complains of blood in his stool, intense pains in his abdomen and frequent fainting spells.

May 8, 2013—Saeed is returned from solitary confinement to the general prison.

May 31, 2013—The White House issues a statement in response to media inquiries about the U.S. government's diplomatic actions to help free Saeed. The statement calls on "Iranian officials to provide [Saeed] medical attention and to release him."

June 3, 2013—Saeed's wife Naghmeh and attorneys from the ACLJ present Saeed's case before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

July 20, 2013—Saeed is taken to a private hospital in Tehran for treatment and, for the first time, is examined by a physician and prescribed medication for injuries he has sustained while in prison. The physician indicates that Saeed will need ongoing medical care to treat his internal injuries.

Aug. 25, 2013—A two-judge panel of the 36 of the Tehran Appeals Court affirms Saeed's conviction and eight-year prison sentence. The panel refuses to provide Saeed's Iranian attorney with a written copy of the decision. One of the judges who issued the decision is Judge Ahmad Zargar, who was sanctioned by the European Union for issuing long-term and death sentences for peaceful political protestors.

Aug. 29, 2013—In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry calls on Iran to “work cooperatively” to release Saeed and other Americans unjustly jailed in Iran. Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, calls the development encouraging but relays her disappointment that President Obama has yet to speak publicly about Saeed's case.

Sept. 12, 2013—Saeed and Naghmeh’s daughter Rebekka turns seven years old. She celebrates her second birthday in a row without her father present. Naghmeh describes Saeed's absence as "very emotional and painful" for their children.

Sept. 26, 2013—Saeed celebrates a grim anniversary: 365 days spent in Evin Prison. Prayer vigils in some 80 U.S. cities and 15 countries worldwide mark the solemn occasion.

Sept. 27, 2013—In a historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, U.S. President Barack Obama expresses concern about Saeed's condition and calls for his release.

Oct. 11, 2013—The European Parliament passes a resolution urging Iran to release Saeed.

Nov. 3, 2013—Saeed’s Iranian family arrives at Evin Prison for their weekly visitation, only to be told Saeed has been transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, a deadly jail notorious for housing violent murderers and rapists. Saeed’s health begins to deteriorate as he is refused medicine in the new prison and is robbed by fellow inmates at knifepoint. 

Nov. 24, 2013—The United States and other world powers reach a tentative deal with Iran to freeze its nuclear program. Saeed’s freedom is not included in the agreement. State Department spokespersons later confirm that Saeed's release was not put on the table by the U.S. during negotiations, even as subsequent reports reveal the U.S. will release a jailed Iranian nuclear scientist as part of the bargain. The ACLJ calls the deal "an appalling betrayal of Pastor Saeed Abedini."

Dec. 12, 2013—Congress holds a hearing on Saeed’s case. Naghmeh tells a House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee, “I never anticipated that I would also have to battle my own government” in the quest to free her husband.

Feb. 6, 2014—President Obama makes his first-ever public call for Saeed’s release at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

May 20, 2014—After spending two months in the hospital, Saeed is suddenly beaten and forcibly returned to prison without advance notice.

July 28, 2014—A U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom cites Saeed's case. Secretary of State Kerry again calls for Iran to release the pastor.

Aug. 11, 2014—Saeed’s children, Jacob and Rebekka, record a video pleading with President Obama to "please help bring [our] daddy home."

Sept. 16, 2014—The U.N.’s Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention releases a report condemning the illegal detention of Saeed and calling on Iran to “immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Abedini.”

Sept. 26, 2014—Prayer vigils held worldwide—including outside the White House in Washington—mark the second anniversary of Saeed’s imprisonment in Iran.

Jan. 21, 2015—While in Boise, President Obama meets privately with Naghmeh and her children, pledging to make Saeed’s release a top priority.

Jan. 29, 2015—Saeed writes a letter to President Obama, thanking him for meeting with Naghmeh and his children.

Feb. 6, 2015—At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama mentions Saeed, imprisoned for his Christian faith and the need to bring him home.

March 20, 2015—President Obama publicly calls for Saeed’s release in a statement to the Iranian people, issued for Persian New Year, a time when some prisoners are traditionally granted reprieve or freedom.

May 11, 2015—U.S. Senate unanimously passes resolution calling on the Obama administration to secure the release of American citizens being held hostage by Iran.

June 2, 2015—Naghmeh testifies in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging members to consider her husband and other prisoners before making any nuclear agreements with Iran.

June 2, 2015—House Resolution 223, demanding Iran release the American citizens held there, passes out of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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