(Photo: The Christian Post)
WASHINGTON - The spouse of imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini has expressed support for sanctions on Iran as part of negotiations to free her husband and other prisoners of conscience held in the Islamic Republic.
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Pastor Abedini, told The Christian Post while serving as a witness at a Congressional hearing Thursday morning that she would "actually approve and be supportive" of sanctions.
"They've asked what if there was an increase in sanctions. I don't think things could get any worse for my husband with increased sanctions," said Abedini.
Abedini added that increased sanctions may be a way of "showing the Iranian government this is an important issue."
Abedini's remarks come as the House of Representatives held a Joint Subcommittee Hearing regarding the situation of Pastor Abedini and other American citizens held in Iran.
Taking place at the Rayburn House Office Building, the Thursday morning hearing focused on the human rights issues within Iran, which have come to focus in light of new nuclear talks between the United States and the Islamic Republic.
Of special concern for those gathered was the apparent lack of priority for human rights issues, like the imprisonment of Pastor Abedini, at the recent talks.
Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, gave the opening remarks.
"Abedini was arrested in July 2012, imprisoned, and tried for sharing his religious beliefs and thereby supposedly undermining the security of Iran," said Smith.
"The U.S. government must not waste another opportunity to secure the release of Abedini - his case needs to be front and center in the next round of U.S.-Iranian negotiations."
Abedini told CP that she felt the hearing "went very well" and that she was "very pleased" with the Congressmen's concern both for her husband and religious freedom in general.
Abedini also told CP that since Pastor Abedini was moved last month to Rajai Shahr Prison, the family has "been limited to two visits a month."
"So we get to hear twice a month how he is doing. I don't get to visit him. His family in Iran, his father was able to see him ten days ago which was the last prison visit," said Abedini.
"It's bittersweet is what I get from them. It's sweet because they get to see their son but it's bitter because every time it's a realization of where he's at."
In addition to Abedini, other witnesses brought before the House Joint Subcommittee were Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House; and Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law Justice.
In her submitted written testimony, Swett of USCIRF told the Joint Subcommittee that there has been a decline in freedom in the Islamic Republic since 2009, when nationwide protests broke out over the controversial results of the presidential election.
"The disputed June 2009 elections marked a tipping point in the human rights and religious freedom environment in Iran," stated Swett.
"The Iranian people experienced the dramatic unleashing of security and paramilitary forces which used brutal force against the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who protested in the streets … ."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Sekulow of ACLJ said that Thursday morning's proceedings were "our first official congressional hearing" on the issue of Saeed Abedini.
"This hearing, the purpose was to update Congress on what has changed since March, since the Administration has engaged in a more public level and the problems that we're still having," said Sekulow, referring to two other American citizens also being held in Iran.
"Back in March, none of us had any idea that we would be sitting down at the table with Iran, that our President would be on the phone with Iran's president for the first time since the Islamic Revolution."
Sekulow also told CP that he felt the U.S. State Department and the overall Obama administration was not doing their best to see about freeing Pastor Abedini, as Abedini's freedom has not been part of the recent talks.
"Yes there's strong congressional support, but there is always politics at play in Washington, D.C.," said Sekulow.