- (Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned for his Christian faith in his native country Iran, has told his wife in a letter that he is being tortured and might be sentenced to death by hanging.
In his letter, written from the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran and addressed to his wife Naghmeh, the 32-year-old pastor said he was uncertain about his fate.
"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," Abedini wrote. "One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy."
However, the pastor sees God's hand in the midst of persecution. "I always wanted God to make me a godly man. I did not realize that in order to become a godly man we need to become like steel under pressure. It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel," he said, referring to the mixed responses he is receiving in prison. "These hot and colds only make you a man of steel for moving forward in expanding His Kingdom."
Abedini's letter, which has been posted on the website of Assemblies of God USA, also speaks about torture.
"When for 120 days you are asleep in a room with one big light that is constantly lit and does not separate day or night and when you can only see true sunlight for a few minutes a week, that's when you are becoming His Workmanship and you can be a vessel in bringing His Kingdom in a dark place and you are able to share the Gospel of Peace and Life to the dying world," wrote the pastor "in chains for our Lord Jesus Christ." "And this is where you learn you can love your enemies with all of your heart."
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini's family in the U.S., has also said the pastor's life is "in grave danger," as he is facing one of Iran's notorious "hanging judges," Pir-Abassi, known for issuing death sentences.
"And now facing one of Iran's most notorious judges, Pastor Saeed is in a real sense an American abandoned in Iran. The U.S. State Department has done very little to help this U.S. citizen," ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said in a report shared with The Christian Post. "When you read Pastor Saeed's own words, you understand that Iran has absolutely no regard for human rights and religious freedom."
Abedini's case has been transferred to Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, and he is now in the hands of Judge Pir-Abassi, who was named in 2011 by the European Union as an individual subject to sanctions for human rights violations. The judge has reportedly presided over a number of cases against human rights activists, often handing down long prison sentences and even several death penalties.
Despite the hardships he is facing, Abedini remains strong in his faith.
"Saeed's letter is nothing short of a modern-day Pauline epistle," AG General Superintendent George O. Wood said on the church's website. "As I read his letter through several times, I could only marvel at how God's faithfulness transcends time as the same Holy Spirit that was with Paul in his times of desperation is fully evident in the words of our brother Saeed."
Wood said he is amazed to find how a letter from an imprisoned pastor "inspires and ministers to me when he – it would seem – is the one who needs our prayers."
"I encourage believers to allow this letter to inspire them to greater things, to pass it on to friends and to continue to uplift Saeed, Naghmeh and their two young children to God in prayer," Wood added.
Abedini grew up in Iran, before converting to Christianity at the age of 20, and marrying an American woman in 2002, which helped him gain U.S. citizenship. The pastor has 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, Abedini 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.
Abedini was arrested for "his previous work as a Christian leader in Iran," according to the ACLJ.