John Kerry, who has been confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of State, has condemned Iran for its imprisonment of U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini in comments made on Tuesday.
"We remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini's trial," Kerry told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) when asked for his response to Pastor Abedini's case. "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."
Adedini, the 32-year-old Iran-born pastor who was sentenced to 8 years in prison supposedly for "endangering national security" by helping underground churches, is appealing against the decision in what the ACLJ, which represents him, has called a "sham" trial.
"This is a very positive sign that the incoming Secretary of State understands the important nature of the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini, U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran and now facing years of beatings and torture simply because of his faith," the American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said in a statement to The Christian Post.
"By condemning Iran and calling for the release of Pastor Saeed, Sen. Kerry, who has now been confirmed and will take the oath of office soon, has the opportunity to lead a worldwide effort needed to free Pastor Saeed. Nations around the globe look to the U.S. when it comes to standing up and defending religious freedom and human rights," he added.
The pastor, who converted to Christianity in 2000 and married U.S. citizen Naghmeh, was arrested in September 2012 after a trip to Iran, where he was working on an orphanage for underprivileged children. He has been held inside the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran ever since, which is where he will spend another 8 years unless petitions for his release are granted.
"It was a complete shock. The way it was handled by the court was shocking," Naghmeh Abedini said of her reaction when the sentence was announced over the weekend.
The ACLJ have been on the frontlines of campaigning for Pastor Abedini, and a petition it started calling for his release has gathered over 250,000 signatures from people around the world.
Sekulow added that the State Department's involvement in the case can make a "tremendous difference" in the case, and it hopes that Abedini's wife and two young children will be able to see him free back home in Idaho.
"My first emotion went to my kids," Naghmeh Abedini added in her statement. "I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, and she will be a teenager the next time she sees her dad and that was pretty devastating and what do I tell them? My daughters heard me say eight years and she said 'what's eight years?' They've been praying every night, and every day they ask is Daddy coming home today? And I didn't want to take that hope away from them and with all the help and support he will come home soon."