As the wife of imprisoned Pastor Saeed Abedini prepares to speak at the U.N. Human Rights Council later on Tuesday, the White House released a statement strongly urging Iran to release him from his 8-year sentence.
"We remain deeply concerned about U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini who has been sentenced to 8 years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs. We can confirm that Mrs. Abedini and her lawyer met with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Eileen Donahoe. We have reached out to numerous international partners to raise awareness of Mr. Abedini's case and to press Iranian officials to provide him medical attention and to release him," the White House said Friday.
The White House said it is sending requests for consular access and is pressing for Abedini's release, but Iran is refusing all communication because it does not recognize the pastor's U.S. citizenship.
"We will continue to press for Mr. Abedini's release … until he is safely returned to his family," the statement reads.
Abedini, who was born in Iran but converted to Christianity and gained his U.S. citizenship when he married his wife, Naghmeh, has been in Evin Prison in Tehran since he was arrested in September 2012. Although charged with endangering national security, the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing his wife and two children in the U.S, revealed that he was building an orphanage for children.
"We believe all the immense pressure on Iran is having an impact and are hopeful that this past week at the U.N. will move Pastor Saeed's case to new heights and soon lead to his release," the ACLJ said following the White House statement.
The law group has been campaigning long and hard to get as much international attention and political support for Abedini's case. The pastor has been suffering from health problems while in prison, and has not been receiving the proper care that he needs.
In January, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also condemned Iran for its unjust imprisonment of the American citizen.
"I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him," Kerry said.
Over 600,000 people around the world have signed a petition calling for his release.