- (Photo: ACLJ)
Pastor Saeed Abedini has revealed that he and fellow prisoners in Tehran are waiting on Iran to follow through with promises to start releasing thousands of prisoners of conscience, which so far has not happened.
"In recent weeks, hopes had been high that Iran was preparing to do the right thing and release Pastor Saeed and other prisoners of conscious as part of a good faith showing under newly elected president Hassan Rouhani," said a statement by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, and their two children in the U.S.
The Iranian-American pastor has been imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran for more than a year, serving an 8-year sentence. The ACLJ has said that the pastor is being punished for his Christian faith – a fate that a number of other prisoners of conscience in the Islamic country are also facing.
Iranian President Rouhani has been described as a "moderate" by many news sources, and his administration released 12 prisoners as an act of good will several weeks ago. That was followed by official announcements that another 80 prisoners of conscience would be released, as well as reports in Iranian media last week that claimed another 1241 were set to be released, in conjunction with a religious holiday.
So far, however, only a handful of people have actually been released, and most of those had nearly completed their prison terms – a lack of development which Abedini said has diminished morale among prisoners in Evin.
In September, President Barack Obama asked Rouhani to release Abedini over the phone in the first communication between the leaders of the U.S. and Iran since 1979, and Naghmeh Abedini was able to hand Rouhani a personal letter pleading for her husband's release at a hotel in New York, while the Iranian president was visiting for a U.N. appearance.
ACLJ International Legal Director Tiffany N. Barrans shared with The Christian Post in an email on Tuesday, however, that there has not yet been a formal response from Rouhani about Abedini's case.
"What we do know, is that after the president of the United States raises the matter and the European Parliament, a politically body representing 28 countries, calls publicly for Pastor Saeed's release, that Iran can no longer claim ignorance. The ball is in Iran's court and it is time that Iran responds to the multitude of voices calling for Pastor Saeed's immediate release," Barrans said.
As for why Iran is so far failing to release the prisoners it had said it would, the international legal director said: "Iran was able to ride the positive media attention of its announcement that it planned to release prisoners. But as the days and weeks have passed, Iran has not yet released an overwhelming majority of those promised their freedom."
Barrans continued: "It is important that the media remind Iran of its promises and that the world continues to watch whether Iran will turn its new moderate rhetoric into concrete actions."
The good news reported by Abedini's family in Iran, who were able to visit him earlier this week, is that the pastor's health has seemingly improved, after suffering for months from intense beatings that had caused internal bleeding.
The ACLJ insisted that the world is watching Iran, and is waiting to see real evidence of change, which would entail releasing Abedini and other prisoners of conscience.