Pastor Saeed Abedini Still in Prison as Trial Begins; Iranian Media Accused of Lying

American Pastor Saeed Abedini has not been freed on bail and remains facing trial and possibly the death penalty in Iran, according to a statement by his wife released on the first day of his trial.

"This is all a lie by the Iranian media," Naghmeh Abedini shared in a statement to the American Center for Law and Justice, who are representing the pastor's wife and two children in the United States. The group confirmed that contrary to an Associate Press report that says Iranian authorities have claimed that the pastor has been released, Abedini remains in Evin Prison in Tehran.

"This has been a repeated promise by the Iranian regime since Saeed was first thrown in prison on September 26, 2012. We have presented bail. After the Judge told Saeed's lawyer that bail was back on the table, the family in Tehran ran around in circles today to make sure Saeed was let out on bail. But again the bail officer rejected bail. This is a game to silence the international media," Naghmeh Abedini explained.

"The lawyer in Iran was asked to make a statement, but that was before the family's attempts today and before the regime again rejected bail. Dr. Sarbazi told me today that the regime is not dropping the charges against Saeed – this is the only act that would allow Saeed to leave Iran and return to the U.S," he added.

Pastor Abedini appeared on Monday before Judge Pir-Abassi, a notorious "hanging judge," in Branch 26 of the Iranian Revolutionary Courts, where he was charged with attempting to undermine the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches. The alleged evidence of the pastor's activities dates back to 2000, when he converted from Islam to Christianity. Prosecutors are saying that Abedini has been trying to influence Islamic youths to convert to Christianity, which is a crime punishable by death in Iran.

Dr. Naser Sarbazi, Abedini's lawyer in Iran, was only allowed to see the court filing one week before the trial, and was given less than 24 hours to meet with the 32-year old pastor and prepare a defense, the ACLJ noted. The lawgroup say that Dr. Sarbazi still managed to present a strong case for why Pastor Abedini's work was not a threat to the national security of Iran, and positioned that the American was motivated solely by his faith and was without a political agenda.

A number of lay church leaders have apparently been summoned to court to testify tomorrow about the pastor's work in Iran, but it is unclear how long the trial will go on for. It is also not certain what kind of sentence Judge Pir-Abassi is planning on giving Pastor Abedini, but a lengthy prison sentence or even capital punishment are possibilities. Abedini has spoken out about his fears of being put to death for his faith, and the judge in question was declared in 2011 by the European Union as an individual subject to sanctions for human rights violations for sentencing a number of human right activists to death.

"Judge Pir-Abassi could render his verdict as early as next week, which means there is still time for the leaders of the free world to speak out loudly on Pastor Saeed's behalf," Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ, urged in the press release.

"We know from past cases that strong international support is crucial, but the responsibility to support a U.S. citizen starts with our own government. While we patiently await Pastor Saeed's verdict there is still time for President Obama and Secretary Clinton to stand publicly with this U.S. citizen," Sekulow added, pointing to a public petition to the U.S. government calling for more action to be taken on the pastor's behalf.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor has said that the State Department needs to take all necessary action to help Pastor Abedini.

"We remain troubled by the case of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs," Vietor shared in a statement reported by The Jerusalem Post. "We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately."

Rep. Frank Wolf (R Virginia) added: "The president and secretary of state need to speak out over and over to draw attention to the dire situation of persecuted Christians in Iran and in the Middle East."

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