Today marks the one year anniversary of the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini by the Iranian government. Saeed Abedini is a Christian pastor who was arrested last year while building orphanages in Iran. On January 27, 2013, he was unjustly sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of "planting house churches that are intended to undermine national security." Pastor Abedini has spent the last year in the notorious Evin Prison receiving regular beatings which has resulted in severe internal bleeding. In August, Pastor Abedini's appeal to reduce his sentence was declined by the Tehran Court of Appeals despite international pressure.
Unfortunately the story of Pastor Abedini is an all too common occurrence in Iran where authorities frequently imprison not only foreign nationals but their own citizens without due process or on political charges.
In the last week, President Rouhani has announced the release of more than ninety political prisoners. These developments are welcome, but it is outrageous that Pastor Abedini or American Amir Hekmati were not included. Mr. Hekmati is a former Marine who was arrested on alleged espionage charges over two years ago while visiting his grandmother in Iran. Iran also continues to refuse to provide information about the case of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, a resident of Florida, who went missing from Iranian territory more than five years ago.
In his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, President Rouhani railed about "militarism" and complained about the globalization of Western values. The reality is that the fundamental freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and sought by the Iranian people today are by their nature universal. They are the fundamental rights given to every man and woman by their Creator.
President Obama, whose own UN speech this week seems to indicate he has come around to believing that our country is exceptional, should defend and advance these values rather than run from them – the way he did when the Iranian people rose up after its sham presidential election in 2009, only to be met with deafening silence from this administration. Failing to do so gives up what is perhaps our most powerful weapon and is a repudiation of who we are as a free and democratic people.