Thousands of petitions for Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran and Kenneth Bae in North Korea are set to be delivered to Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf on Capitol Hill, with a Christian watchdog group calling on the Obama administration to step up its efforts for the release of the two imprisoned Christians.
"The human and religious rights of both of these men have been flagrantly violated since their detention in these foreign countries; therefore, as your constituent, I urge you to pursue every possible course of action, without delay, to secure the immediate release of Saaed Abedini in Iran and Kenneth Bae in North Korea," read the petition, organized by Christian Freedom International and addressed to Obama and his officials.
Abedini, a U.S. citizen currently serving eight years in prison in Iran, was arrested in July 2012 while working on an orphanage project and was accused by Islamic authorities of "threatening national security." Bae was also arrested in 2012 while leading a tour from China to North Korea and accused of making plots against the government.
The families of both imprisoned men in the U.S. have pleaded for their release, and while the Obama administration has pledged to help them, they remain captive in Iran and North Korea, respectively.
Lisa Jones, executive director of CFI, told The Christian Post in an email on Monday that the two cases are completely separate and deal with different government climates.
"Without being an expert on U.S. relations with either country, I would say Obama has more leverage with Iran to negotiate Saeed's release. I was extremely disappointed recently when we freed the Iranian nuclear scientist; I was dearly hoping that would prove to be a negotiated exchange," Jones told CP, referring to U.S. loosening sanctions on Iran in late 2013 and releasing an Iranian nuclear scientist as part of negotiations, but failing to ensure Abedini's release.
"Normally (if you can call it normal) sanction relief is what N. Korea wants in exchange for imprisoned Americans. It's a pretty simple formula, and no better than the abductions-for-ransom that goes on daily in many corrupt countries," Jones continued.
She also brought up that when the Australian missionary John Short was arrested in North Korea earlier this year for distributing Christian pamphlets, the Australian government was able to secure his release in just three weeks.
"Surely the U.S. can do as well," Jones said.
While Iran has released some political prisoners since president Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013, Abedini has not been one of them. At the same time, North Korea has denied reports that Bae is not receiving fair treatment, with North Korean ambassador to the U.K. Hyun Hak-bong insisting in January that the missionary should serve the full 15 years of his sentence.
CFI noted that it has spent the past year raising awareness for the two imprisoned Christians, and has been keeping its supporters updated on their respective conditions.
CFI President Jim Jacobson further called the imprisonment of the U.S. citizens "shameful" and a "national embarrassment," with the group urging people to continue signing the petitions.