For the third Christmas in a row, Christian American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for his faith since 2012, is missing his family. And despite being cold and threatened by inmates in prison, Abedini encouraged Christians in a moving and at times heartbreaking letter to his family from his prison cell to keep hoping in God.
The letter, which Abedini wrote from the Rajai Shahr Prison, was posted on the ACLJ website after he sent it to a family member.
The organization noted that Abedini was allowed see a relative for the first time in more than a month last week. He's also still waiting to receive medical attention for pain and internal injuries he suffered as a result of multiple beatings in prison over the last two years. more >>
Three Iranian Christian leaders have seen their convictions overturned following an appeals hearing, in what persecution watchdog groups are hailing as an encouraging victory. Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani have been granted their freedom after their six-year sentences were overturned, but pastor Benhram Irani is still serving six years for previous convictions.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirmed the court's decision in an email to The Christian Post on Tuesday. The group's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said in a statement:
"We are extremely pleased to learn of the release of Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Deacon Silas Rabbani, Hossein Baraunzadeh and Rahman Bahman. While we welcome this news, we remain concerned at the continued detention of Amin Khaki and long-term prisoners like Behnam Irani and Farshi Fathi – all of whom who have been unjustly detained." more >>
U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has now been in an Iranian jail for his Christian faith for more than two years and has been subjected to harsh beatings, is in "severe pain," according to a relative who was able to visit him in prison.
"Saeed continues to have severe pain and would appreciate your prayers," American Center for Law and Justice quotes Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, as saying.
Saeed has sustained prolonged internal injuries due to beatings in the prison, ACLJ explains, stressing that "as his pain increases, so does the need for humanitarian release." more >>
Three Christian clergymen, each facing six years in prison in Iran for their faith, attended a second appeal hearing on Tuesday. Reports noted that yet another Christian, a house church leader in Shiraz, was recently arrested.
"The charges faced by Pastors Behnam Irani, Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani are clearly unjust, as Mr Farahani has argued in court. We continue to call on the authorities to release these clergymen along with Ebrahim Hosseinzadeh, unconditionally and without delay," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a news release.
"Their only 'crime' is to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is signatory. We urge the Iranian government to uphold this right for religious minorities in Iran, in line with its obligations under international law and the provisions upholding the rights of religious minorities in its own constitution." more >>
The lawyer representing two Christian pastors and a deacon facing six years in prison in Iran for their faith has reportedly been denied access to his clients ahead of an appeal hearing.
"It is unacceptable that these men have been denied access to their legal counsel ahead of the court hearing. We remain concerned about the lack of due process in their case and the exceptional nature of their punishment. They have committed no crime and are effectively being punished for their faith," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas on Monday.
"We are deeply concerned for their wellbeing and, in particular, for pastor Irani's health, which has deteriorated significantly during his unjust detention. We urge the Iranian authorities to release these men and the many others who are being held in contravention of the international covenants guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief to which Iran is party," Thomas added. more >>
The fate of Pastor Saeed Abedini continues hanging in the balance following the extension of negotiations between Iran and several nations, including the U.S., on a nuclear deal. The American Center for Law and Justice noted that Abedini has not been "completely abandoned" yet by the Obama administration, and it remains critical that Iran be pressured for his release.
"The American people were heard and Iran was not rewarded with a nuclear deal while it continues to imprison and torment a U.S. citizen. Yet Pastor Saeed is not free," wrote Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ.
"Second, the reports indicate that there will be no lull in the negotiations; they will continue as soon as next month. That means now continues to be a critical time to pressure Iran to release Pastor Saeed." more >>