Imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini has suffered a "devastating blow" after Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals declined to reduce his 8-year prison sentence, defying strong international pressure.
"While we remained hopeful that Iran would use its own appeal process to finally show respect for Pastor Saeed's basic human rights, again Iran has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, and their two children.
"We are exploring all options with Pastor Saeed's family, including options in this country and abroad to bring more pressure on Iran from the U.S. and other countries around the world. The decision is deeply troubling and underscores Iran's continued violation of principles of freedom of religion, association, peaceful assembly, and expression," Sekulow continued.
Pastor Abedini was arrested in the summer of 2012 and sentenced earlier this year to 8 years in prison, supposedly for endangering national security, though the ACLJ has said that has more to do with his Christian faith. He has suffered numerous beatings while in prison, and has been sent to solitary confinement, which has led to him fainting from pain.
The ACLJ and Naghmeh have led an international campaign calling for his release, which has been backed by a number of U.S. politicians and over 620,000 people worldwide who have signed a petition in his support.
Sekulow noted that the latest setback signals a new level of concern for the pastor, who now faces "additional beatings and abuse inside Evin Prison – treatment that has significantly weakened him during his first year in prison."
Naghmeh Abedini described the news as "devastating" for the family.
"In the coming days our family will be consulting with legal counsel in Iran to determine the next course of action," she said in a statement.
"The family could appeal the case to the Supreme Court in Tehran or plead for the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to intervene and pardon Pastor Saeed. From past cases, we know that the decision to release my husband lies solely at the mercy of the Supreme Leader. It is imperative in the coming days, weeks, and months that we remain vigilant to call for Pastor Saeed's release. This includes continuing to put pressure on Iran from the U.S. government and governments around the world."
Although notable figures from the Obama Administration, such as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have condemned Abedini's imprisonment, Naghmeh Abedini expressed her disappointment with President Barack Obama's lack of action on the case.
"My President, President Obama, has not spoken a word about him. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic speech defending freedom by Dr. Martin Luther King, a brave American who gave his life to fight for the freedom that is so fundamental to our way of life, I am extremely disappointed that President Obama has chosen to remain silent on this critical human and religious rights case of an American imprisoned in Iran."
The ACLJ reminded readers that prayer vigils around the world on September 26 are still planned for Abedini, which will take on even greater importance now.