Naghmeh, the wife of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith, said she is "very encouraged" by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's public statement calling for her husband's "immediate" release.
"I am very encouraged by Secretary Kerry's statement demanding Saeed's immediate release," said Naghmeh in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on Friday, which is representing the pastor's family in the U.S.
"I am very happy to read that although Secretary Kerry has asked for medical treatment for Saeed, he does not stop there, and states that the best outcome is Saeed's immediate release," she said. "I hope to see more proactive actions from our government. Saeed and I are both proud to be Americans. I am hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States."
John Kerry released the statement late Friday afternoon after the ACLJ released a letter Pastor Abedini sent to his wife describing how he was beaten and denied medical treatment because he was seen as "unclean" due to his faith.
"I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs," Kerry wrote. "I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran's own laws."
Kerry added he was also troubled by the lack of due process in Abedini's case and "Iran's continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities," the U.S. protecting power in Iran. "I welcome reports that Mr. Abedini was examined by a physician and expect Iranian authorities to honor their commitment to allow Mr. Abedini to receive treatment for these injuries from a specialist outside the prison. The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released."
Meanwhile, a petition to "pressure Iran into releasing the imprisoned and tortured American citizen, Pastor Saeed Abedini" has been created on "We the People," a section of the whitehouse.gov website for petitioning the current administration's policy experts. At least 100,000 signatures are needed before April 21 to receive a response. It was created on the day Kerry issued his statement.
Saeed – who grew up in Iran before converting to Christianity at the age of 20 – traveled with his family back and forth between Iran and the U.S. several times in the past few years to meet his family and for Christian work. During one such trip in 2009, he was detained by Iranian officials and interrogated for his conversion. While he was released with a warning against engaging in any more underground church activities, he was once again arrested last July while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.
In January, Iran's notorious Islamic Revolutionary Court convicted Pastor Abedini of "threatening the national security" by leading house churches years ago, and sentenced him to eight years in Tehran's deadly Evin Prison.
"My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown," Pastor Abedini wrote from the prison. "The nurse would also come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others 'in our religion we are not supposed to touch you, you are unclean. Baha'i (religion) and Christians are unclean!' She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had."
The ACLJ said that the letter was written weeks ago, on margins of scraps of newspaper, and is only the third one he has been allowed to send to his family in Idaho in the nearly 180 days he has spent in prison so far.
Besides Kerry's statement, State Department representatives also met with Naghmeh last week, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday directly called for Abedini's release during a meeting in Geneva.
"We're very pleased that Secretary of State Kerry made this bold and public statement calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ. "By speaking out directly on behalf of Pastor Saeed, Secretary Kerry is taking our government's most aggressive action yet in working to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen," he said.
"By becoming directly involved in this case, the U.S. sends a powerful message to Iran and our allies – our government will not stand by and abandon one of our own. By engaging the Pastor Saeed case at the highest level, we're hopeful that the State Department will now do everything in its power to secure the release of this U.S. citizen," Sekulow said.
Naghmeh had earlier said she was disappointed with the government. "I'm disappointed that our president and our State Department has not fully engaged in this case," she said after the State Department did not provide a witness for a hearing at which she testified last week. "I'm disappointed that this great country is not doing more to free my husband – a U.S. citizen. Yes, we are both proud to be American citizens. And I expect more from our government."