Pastor Joel Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed, who is President Barack Obama's spiritual adviser, has recently returned from a trip to Iran where he spoke with officials and called for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen.
"One of our main goals in this trip was to create such a different environment which would include giving more leeway to different religions. Now that we have this connection, we were able to discuss these prisoners, specifically in regard to Pastor Saeed Abedini," Hunter said, according to BBC Persia, as translated by the American Center for Law and Justice.
"It was because of this dialogue that we were able to ask the Iranian government for clemency for him and we were able to bring this up with the right person and in the right environment. This opportunity was provided to us by the Iranians themselves and it did not happen because of any pressure from us."
Abedini was beaten badly and returned to Rajai Shahr prison in May, to the disappointment of his wife, Naghmeh, and the many around the world who have signed petitions calling for his release. According to the ACLJ, which represents Naghmeh and their two children in the U.S., the 34-year-old pastor is serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran because of his Christian faith.
Abedini has sustained numerous beatings while in prison, first at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, and while he was moved to a hospital to receive treatment earlier this year. His family is now again very worried about his health and safety.
The law group said that it is grateful for Hunter's efforts in calling for clemency for Abedini.
"This is a welcomed development that keeps Pastor Saeed's case in the public eye. It also sends an important message to Iran – It is time to free Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen, so he can return to his family in the United States," the ACLJ stated.
President Obama has spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, calling for the pastor's release. The ACLJ continues to urge the Obama administration to keep raising Abedini's case and demand that he be returned to his family in America.
Naghmeh Abedini, who has been vocal in her campaign to see her husband released, also expressed her gratitude that the U.S. government is discussing religious freedom in Iran.
"This is great news for Saeed and for the Iranian people. This development is very encouraging and I remain hopeful that the United States will continue to raise Saeed's case with Iran. We continue to pray for his freedom," Abedini said. "I want to thank the many people who continue to keep Saeed and our family in prayer. That continues to provide tremendous strength and support for our family."
July will mark two years since the American pastor was first arrested in Iran for his faith.