(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)
An American pastor currently held in Iranian prison is facing a grim future after it was announced that his case was recently transferred to a judge accused of human rights violations and infamous for the number of people he has sentenced to death.
"This new development is highly troubling -- it appears Iran is determined to remove any chance of the American pastor receiving any semblance of a fair trial. Even more troubling is that the U.S. government has remained silent, essentially abandoning this American in his search for justice," Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a report shared with The Christian Post. The ACLJ is representing Pastor Saeed Abedini's family in the U.S.
Abedini, 32, 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. Along with his wife, Naghmeh, and their two young children, the pastor has traveled back and forth between Iran and the U.S. a number of times in the past few years, helping create a network of underground churches, which provide a safe haven for Muslims who have converted to Christianity.
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, in July 2012, he was once again arrested while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.
The ACLJ says the minister was arrested for "his previous work as a Christian leader in Iran," and that he faces the death penalty for trying to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. Currently, Abedini is facing trial at the Evin Prison in northwestern Tehran, described by the persecution watch group as one of Iran's most brutal prisons -- reports allege that he has been beaten by guards and inmates.
The pastor'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 – with some calling him one of Iran's "hanging judges."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also highlighted Judge Pir-Abassi in its 2012 Annual report to the U.S. State Department as being "responsible for particularly severe violations of religious freedom" and recommended that America should "continue to bar from entry into the United States and freeze [his and his immediate family members'] assets."
The ACLJ says that although the U.S. State Department has acknowledged Pastor Abedini's case, no action has yet been taken on his behalf.
"It is an absolute travesty that the U.S. government would stand by idly while an American citizen, detained for his exercise of a fundamental human right, deteriorates in an Iranian prison," the watch group insists.
"He became a criminal in his own country," Naghmeh Abedini has said of her husband. "His passion was to reach the people of Iran."
A petition to the State Department organized by the ACLJ to free the American pastor is currently collecting signatures.