Pastor Saeed Abedini and Naghmeh Were Living Apart Years Before His Iran Arrest
Almost as soon as they got married on June 30, 2004, in Tehran, Iran, persecuted pastor Saeed Abedini and his now ex-wife, Naghmeh Panahi, were traveling a "really rough" road. Within three years of the marriage, according to court files, the Christian couple were already living apart.
According to a copy of the transcript of the couple's divorce proceeding held at the Ada County Court in Idaho earlier this year and acquired by The Christian Post, Panahi claimed she was abused the first few years of their marriage and feared for her life.
Panahi, who had advocated for the release of her husband from 2012 almost until Abedini was freed from an Iranian jail in January 2016, testified before the court that they had been living apart on and off as early as 2007.
She explained that she was forced to call the police and move in with her parents in 2007 after Abedini allegedly attacked her over a disagreement with his extended family.
"Right around that time the domestic violence was escalating and it was getting increasingly dangerous for me and [redacted] and I was [redacted] at that time with [redacted] And by the advice of the police officers and my pastor I was told to go to a safe place. And I went to — that is when I decided to live — leave and stay with my parents," she said.
"Yes. Saeed was talking with his parents on Skype and his siblings. And they were saying things about me that was upsetting me. And so I told them to stop and ...
"I can't really remember the exact things, but it was upsetting me. And I asked that he stop talking to them and that we can talk about what they were discussing about me. And he refused and was angry that I even stated my opinion. And stood up and grabbed my shirt, neck, and he started rebuking demons out of me. And shaking his finger, in the name of Jesus I rebuke the demons. And my mind flashed back," she said.
She then went on to explain how just a year after marrying Abedini in November 2005, he administered a beating on her in Dubai while waiting for his visa to be processed so he could move to the U.S.
"When he started yelling and screaming and rebuking spirits from me, my mind flashed back to like November 2005 we had just left Iran. We had come to the country of Dubai and we were awaiting for visa for Saeed to get into the U.S. But we had just that night left Iran. We had arrived at an apartment and I was unpacking a suitcase that Saeed had neatly put together.
"And I remember throwing a shirt and Saeed said I just spent a lot of time packing, how dare you. And I said who cares. And as soon as I said that the same facial expression that I saw in 2007 as 2005. He got very angry. He started beating me very badly. I had bumps coming out of my head. Bruises all over. Kicking and hitting, and I thought I was going to die. I was screaming and yelling," she said.
Abedini has denied accusations of abuse.
Read Saeed Abedini's testimony in court
When questioned why she didn't seek help, Panahi said domestic violence victims rarely get help in Muslim countries and are usually blamed for any attacks from their spouse.
"It was in Dubai. It was in a Muslim country where it is normal and you don't really get a right. And you don't really have a right as a woman if you get beaten. But at the same time I thought I can't even report it to our embassy because I was a citizen because he will not be accepted into the U.S.," she explained.
She said her faith and her culture were other reasons why she didn't walk away from the marriage as soon as trouble started.
"I never in my mind ever because of my culture and my faith ever comprehended ever separating from Saeed or ever thought about — I thought I have a child now, we are going to stay together. I don't want to — if he can't come to the U. S. then our family will be broken," she said.
She said she felt trapped and didn't feel like there was anyone she could turn to.
"I called Saeed's mom and I called my mom. But there was just — my mom was fearful. She kept saying Naghmeh, just don't make him more angry. You are in a Muslim country. Just keep quiet, keep calm until you can come to the U.S. His mom really didn't have a reaction," she said.
Panahi argued that instead of taking responsibility for his actions against her, Abedini blamed the beating on "demonic forces."
"What happened in 2005 he never said sorry about that. He said demonic forces had made him do it. So he never took responsibility. And so in 2007 he started calling me cast — casting out demons from me. The flashback came because since 2005 I was walking on egg shells. I knew that Saeed could kill me with his bare hands. I knew the power he had in his fists and he had been trained, and I know his background was coming from radical Islam. And in that moment in 2005 in Dubai I realized this man can kill me," she said.
She said after the Dubai beating, she became very careful about how she responded to her then husband.
"I was walking on egg shells from that moment until 2007. Basically everything he said, okay...What I should wear. If I should not see my friends. Everything from who I could see. What I should do. What I should wear. What I should eat. How I should behave."
She explained that because the 2007 incident happened on a Sunday, she was unable to reach any close friends or relatives to get her away from Abedini so she was forced to call the police. She said Abedini was arrested and he pleaded guilty to a crime but because she did not want her husband to be deported she spent thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer who helped her recant the allegations against him and cleared the way for him to get his U.S. citizenship in 2010.
She said she did everything in her power to avoid getting a divorce because that wasn't a choice she felt was open to her.
"My belief and my culture we didn't have anyone in my family that had ever divorced or separated. And I was actually taught by my culture you endure anything. You endure beating. You endure adultery, you endure anything for the sake of the kids to keep — you don't want children in a broken home. And so that was my worst fear was having children in a broken home," she said.
Panahi met Abedini in 2001 when she went to Iran as a missionary in her mid-20s. She called him her "first date," explaining how she was initially drawn to him because of his charisma. From the outset, however, she said the relationship was "really rough."
"I had never been in a relationship before, and so I was already too emotionally attached to break it off. Saeed was my first date," she said.
"He would say you have sins from your fathers and I need to take those out of you. And so he would push me to a point of anger where he would start calling me names and putting me down. Or I would get worked up and he would say see, I see the sin of anger. I am going to teach you a lesson," she said.
Shortly after she had moved in with her parents to escape Saeed, he eventually moved in as well but things never got better.
"So after I moved in with my in [redacted] 2007 he moved in soon after and the domestic violence escalated in my parents' household. From the physical abuse to me moved onto my parents and it moved onto property," Panahi told the court.
Abedini, she also said, believes himself to be a "Levite" and that "he should not work."
Things got so bad again in the Abedini household that in 2009, the pastor walked out on his family and moved to California where he lived with his aunt for six months.
It was that same year, Panahi said, that Abedini began traveling back and forth to Iran spending months at a time away from his family. During one of these visits, he was arrested but was eventually released after some months.
Desperate to make her marriage work, Panahi testified that she took her children and traveled with Saeed to Iran in October 2011 and stayed there with him and his family until early February 2012.
She testified that the living arrangement was uncomfortable and that she was attacked by Abedini's father. She had to flee his family home in Iran with the help of her father's associates. Abedini, however, held on to her travel documents and she was unable to leave. She was forced to offer penance to members of Abedini's family by kissing their feet.
"So the next morning I called and I said can you please give me my passport and he wouldn't let me leave the country. He said you have to kiss feet. You have the kiss the feet of my family. You have to do whatever it takes. You know I have power here in Iran. And so I basically begged my way back into the apartment. Kissed his dad's feet and his sister's feet. And I knew at that point that he could take the kids away from me. I knew that I could stay in that country forever and that's when I was consumed by fear," she said.
Abedini's family, she said, also forced her to see a psychologist in Iran and claimed she was "sick." She said she was prescribed medication for schizophrenia and OCD, which she did not take.
In 2012 when Abedini was arrested, Panahi said she had begged Abedini not to go to Iran but he went anyway where he spent time alone with another woman who had told her she was his wife.
"In June of that year  he was spending a lot of time with this girl. He would travel to Iran and spend time with a girl named Naseam (phonetic). And right before his arrest he had — I had begged him not to spend time with her because she had called me and said Saeed is her husband and I need to divorce him and so on. And so she was spending 24/ 7 with him and I begged him please don't see her," she recalled.
Abedini told her she could not tell him what to do, according to Panahi.
"And he [said], nope you have no right as a wife to tell me who I can or I cannot see. He made a trip with her to the country of Georgia alone. I called 3:00 in the morning and she was in his hotel room. And I just start crying and he said you're crazy. I told you you need to see a doctor. And because I got mad that he was with a girl. And so he said you're crazy you are going to the doctor now," she said.
The day after that incident, Abedini was arrested with Naseam, his female companion.
"The next day he was pulled off the bus coming from Georgia, country of Georgia, to Iran. And after that it was on the news he got pulled off the bus. She was with him and he was put under house arrest. July of that year," she said.
The controversial ex-couple, who have two young children, have been in the public eye since Abedini was placed under house arrest and later imprisoned for three-and-a-half years in his native Iran for participating in Christian home churches in 2012.
While imprisoned, Panahi made many public appearances lobbying for her then husband's freedom, including giving a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013. She also met privately with former President Obama when he visited the former couple's hometown in Boise, Idaho, in 2015.
But in November 2015, Panahi suspended her public advocacy for Abedini, citing continued psychological and sexual abuse in her marriage, along with other allegations.
Then, 10 days after Abedini's release from an Iranian prison in January 2016, Panahi filed for legal separation from her husband. She told Reuters that Abedini had threatened to end their marriage and that she had taken "temporary legal action to make sure our children will stay in Idaho" until the situation between them had been resolved.
Abedini and Panahi's divorce was finalized in April this year.