(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen born in Iran, is facing a quick trial in Tehran on Jan. 21 and has expressed fears that he might be given the death penalty for his Christian work.
The American Center for Law and Justice shared an update with The Christian Post about the pastor's case, and revealed that his attorney in Iran has been allowed to see the court file only very recently – to discover that the pastor's trial date is set for Monday, Jan. 21, less than one week from now.
"It is an outrage that Pastor Saeed's trial date and charge against him would be withheld from his legal counsel until less than a week before the trial itself. Not only is Iran violating Pastor Saeed's fundamental freedom of religion, but it is making a mockery of justice," Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement. The ACLJ is representing the pastor's family, his wife and two children, who are in the U.S.
Pastor Abedini's case was also recently transferred over to a notorious "hanging judge" in Iran, named in 2011 by the European Union as an individual subject to sanctions for human rights violations for sentencing a number of human right activists to death.
In a letter to his wife, Naghmeh, the 32-year-old pastor recently expressed his fears that he might indeed be facing the death penalty, and revealed some of the interrogation techniques that have been used against him in Evin Prison in Tehran.
"This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus," Pastor Abedini wrote. "One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy."
Pastor Abedini, who converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 20 and later married Naghmeh, a U.S. citizen, has long been targeted by Iranian authorities for helping underground churches in Iran and for his charity work. He was first detained by Iranian officials in 2009, and released with a warning not to continue preaching. But in July 2011, he was once again arrested during one of his trips from America to Iran.
His lawyer has deciphered, however, that the only real charge authorities have managed to make against him is for "endangering" the national security of Iran in 2000, the year when he converted to Christianity. The ACLJ described it as "a typical charge brought by the radical Islamic regime against those it wishes to persecute for their religious beliefs. His court file indicated that this national security charge was directly related to his work starting a house church movement in Iran."
The law group claims that Iranian authorities have even confiscated more than $105,000 from an Iranian bank account given to Abedini in donations for a local orphanage project.
The U.S. State Department recently revealed its "serious concerns" for the pastor's imprisonment, but stopped short of calling for his immediate release. The ACLJ has urged the State Department to take a stronger stand on the issue and offer better protection for Americans persecuted in other countries for their Christian faith.
More than 66,000 people have already signed a petition urging for Pastor Abedini's release from prison, and the ACLJ is hopeful that intense international pressure will eventually lead to his freedom, such as in Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's case.