The American Center for Law and Justice is not giving up on its campaign for Pastor Saeed Abedini, the U.S. citizen imprisoned in Tehran, Iran, and is starting a letter-writing initiative for his birthday.
"We've obtained the address of Evin Prison, and our goal is to flood that prison with thousands of messages of encouragement for Pastor Saeed. You write the letter, and we'll deliver it," said ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow.
Abedini has been in Evin Prison since September 2012, when he was arrested and later sentenced to eight years for "endangering national security" in Iran. What he was really doing, the law group says, was helping to build an orphanage for children in the Middle East country.
The ACLJ, which represents Abedini's wife and two children back home in the U.S., has successfully petitioned in getting the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry to speak out on the pastor's plight and call on Iranian authorities to release him.
The ACLJ criticized the "sham" trial Abedini was given in Iranian court in January. At a hearing before Congress, the law group took the opportunity to talk not only about Abedini's plight, but also about the persecution that many Christians face in Muslim-dominated countries.
The Iranian-born pastor has said that he is staying strong in his Christian faith, but in the limited correspondence he has been allowed with his family, he has made clear that he is being mistreated in prison.
"My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown," Abedini wrote in a letter in March. "The nurse would also come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others 'in our religion we are not suppose to touch you, you are unclean. Baha'i (religion) and Christians are unclean!' She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had."
A petition started for Adedini by the ACLJ has been signed by more than 550,000 people from over 180 countries. The law group hopes that the new letter-writing campaign will help encourage and give strength to the pastor, whose birthday is May 7.
"These messages will let Pastor Saeed know that we're praying for him and working for his release, and these messages will send a signal to Iran that Americans will never leave him behind," Sekulow added.