Pastor Saeed Abedini Won't Be Set Free Until the US First Releases 19 Iranian Criminals, Says President Rouhani

Pastor Saeed Abedini and his family
Pastor Saeed Abedini, his wife Naghmeh and his two children in this undated family photo. |
Portraits of 13 Iranian prisoners
Members of Inside Out Group Action hang an installation outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, February 18, 2014. The installation is part of a global participatory art project started by famed street artist and 2011 TED prize winner JR, and features the portraits of 13 Iranian "prisoners of rights." |
Max Saatchi stands with other protesters while wearing a mask depicting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a "No to Rouhani, Yes to Human Rights in Iran Rally" organized by the National Council of Resistance to Iran, outside the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 28, 2015. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.N. to denounce human rights abuses by the Rouhani government. |
Naghmeh Abedini
Naghmeh Abedini and her two young children in a Facebook photo uploaded in Boise, Idaho, August 31, 2015. |
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. |
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Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Abedini, has slammed the apparent offer by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to free her husband in exchange for releasing Iranian prisoners being held in the United States. Naghmeh argued that her husband is not "collateral" to be treated as such.

"My husband is not collateral. He is a father and a man who broke no law. Yet Iran is treating him like a pawn in a game of chess. President Rouhani's demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostage during the Iranian revolution," Naghmeh Abedini said.

"The environment is ripe for Iran to demonstrate it is ready to re-enter the global market and international scene of diplomats; it is time to show its good will, to change its image from one of a pariah to a member of the global society who will protect fundamental rights," she added.

Rouhani, who has been pressured by leaders around the world to free the American pastor, was asked about the issue in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

He suggested that the only way Abedini and other imprisoned Americans are going to be set free is if the U.S. government agrees to reach out with the same gesture to imprisoned Iranians.

"If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set [a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned] free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani said.

"If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps," he added.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Naghmeh and the couple's two children in the U.S., called the demand "absurd and insulting," and said that Iran is treating Abedini as a "hostage for ransom."

Abedini has been in prison now for three years, serving an eight year sentence. He has faced beatings and threats behind bars, and has often been denied the medical attention that he needs.

Abedini has even been threatened that his sentence will be extended.

"The interrogators threatened that Saeed will face new criminal charges. They claimed Saeed has connections with anti-government groups and has made statements and taken actions against the government of Iran. Saeed denied all of these allegations, and once again asserted that he is apolitical and that he has never threatened the security of, made any statements against, or taken any action against the government of Iran," the ACLJ said in a report last week.

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