Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, delivered a heartfelt plea to lawmakers during a Congressional hearing Thursday, begging them to end her family's "nightmare" and help release her husband from the deadly Rajaï Shahr prison in Iran.
Naghmeh spoke alongside Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, during Thursday's Joint Subcommittee Hearing, during which lawmakers sought to address the current status of Pastor Abedini and other American citizens being held in Iran. Saeed Abedini was arrested in July 2012 and charged with undermining Iran's security, although it is believed he is really being detained due to his Christian faith.
At Thursday's Congressional hearing, Naghmeh criticized the failure of the United States to bring up Abedini's imprisonment during recent nuclear talks with Iran, saying those talks were the "perfect" opportunity to negotiate her husband's release. "I feel my husband has been abandoned," she said.
Naghmeh went on to lament the resistance she has felt from the U.S. government. "When I spoke in front of the Lantos Commission in March, I had anticipated I would battle the Iranian government for my husband's freedom. I never anticipated that I would have to battle my own government," she said. "How strong is our American president? How serious is he about American security? Would he act immediately with firm resolve to protect and defend?"
The pastor's wife went on to say that she hopes the U.S. will ultimately see "how far we've fallen" in negotiations with Iran regarding her husband's release.
In addition to her verbal testimony to lawmakers, Naghmeh also delivered a written statement at the Congressional hearing. "I am standing before you today because religious persecution is real," the statement read. "And until we stand up as one -- as Americans, as political leaders, and government officials, as people who have been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights -- we will not truly embrace the responsibility that comes with that freedom."
The statement also detailed Pastor Abedini's current stay in Iran's deadliest prison, Rajai Shahr, saying that only the hand of God has kept Abedini safe from knife-wielding prisoners that include some of Iran's toughest criminals, such as rapists and murderers. "Prisoners have murdered other prisoners while prison officials stood by and did nothing. In that place, nothing but the hand of God keeps him from being killed. Each day he remains in that dreadful place could mean a death sentence; any day could be execution day."
Earlier this year, Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Iran. Naghmeh said in her testimony that although she is afraid it is too much to hope for, she prays her husband will be home by Christmas to see his children, who do not yet know of their father's eight-year prison sentence.
Along with Naghmeh, Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Dr. Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House, all testified at Thursday's House Joint Subcommittee hearing.
Although President Obama pushed for the release of Abedini and other American prisoners during a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September, the administration failed to take any actual action on negotiating Abedini's release with Iran. Members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have pledged to continue fighting for Pastor Abedini, saying that they will continue to pressure the Obama administration to bring up the pastor's plight in future negotiation talks.