More than 250 people participated in a charity rally in Nampa, Idaho, and raised money to show support for U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is in jail in Iran and has been tortured because of his Christian faith.
Taking part in the "Save Saeed Community Benefit Ride/Walk" on Saturday, people from Nampa and elsewhere walked, rode bicycles and dropped off donations, Idaho Statesman reported.
About $2,800 was raised for the family of Pastor Abedini. His wife, Naghmeh, and their two children, ages 6 and 5, live in West Boise, Idaho.
"It is our hope that whenever she uses one of these gifts, she will be reminded that her community cares," said Annette Welburn, a Nampa mom who organized the rally. She said some of those who donated to the benefit live in other states.
The goal is to let the Abedini family know "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that people care about them, Welburn had earlier told the newspaper.
Saeed – who grew up in Iran before converting to Christianity at the age of 20 – traveled with his family back and forth between Iran and the U.S. several times in the past few years to meet his family and for Christian work. During one such trip in 2009, he was detained by Iranian officials and interrogated for his conversion. While he was released with a warning against engaging in any more underground church activities, he was once again arrested last July while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.
In a recent letter to Naghmeh, Pastor Abedini wrote from prison, "My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown. The nurse would also come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others 'in our religion we are not supposed to touch you, you are unclean. Baha'i (religion) and Christians are unclean!' She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had."
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for Abedini's "immediate" release. However, the State Department's "virtual embassy" to Iran, which highlights that country's human rights abuses, has a site listing those jailed for dissent or religious beliefs but it doesn't include Pastor Abedini's name.
"The omission of Pastor Saeed Abedini's name from this State Department website is disappointing and represents a missed opportunity for our government to stand-up for the rights of a U.S. citizen, who also happens to be an Iranian citizen," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the pastor's family in the U.S., said in a statement last week. "It's clear that the State Department is calling attention to those Iranian citizens whose rights have been violated. Doesn't a U.S. citizen – who holds dual citizenship – deserve to be included on this list?"