Pastor Saeed Abedini has been released from prison in Iran after more than three years in captivity for his Christian faith.
Abedini, a U.S. citizen who has attracted high-profile advocates for his release including President Obama and members of Congress, was released on Saturday along with three other detained Americans: Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian; former Marine Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosavi-Roodsari, The Washington Post reported. Senior U.S. administration officials also confirmed the release of the four prisoners, according to CNN.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, who has tirelessly campaigned for his release since his imprisonment, said in a statement, "This has been an answer to prayer. This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed's return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time."
Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, who has publicly advocated and prayed for Abedini's release, posted on his Facebook Saturday: "American Pastor, Saeed Abedini along with the 3 other American prisoners have been released from Prison in Iran! This is an answered prayer! For years the hashtag has been #SaveSaeed Now, we can update it to #GodsavedSaeed"
The four Americans were released by Iran in exchange for at least six people imprisoned by the United States and also ahead of the nearing implementation of the July 2015 historic nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had previously said that Abedini would not be released until 19 Iranian prisoners held in the U.S. are granted their freedom.
American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the legal group representing Abedini's wife and family, noted that they first heard news that Saeed was released from his prison cell to Iran's Central Intelligence agency late Friday night. It was not until Saturday morning that they were able to confirm that the pastor was really freed.
"This is a major victory. We are incredibly grateful to the more than 1.1 million people who have joined us in fighting across the globe for Pastor Saeed's freedom," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of ACLJ, in a statement.
"We're delighted this day has finally arrived," Sekulow continued. "We have worked and prayed that this day would finally arrive. And now, Pastor Saeed can return home."
Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho, had served over three years of an eight year sentence in Iran for the supposed crime of endangering national security, but in reality it was because of his Christian faith. Abedini is a Muslim convert to Christianity and was in Iran working on building an orphanage when he was suddenly arrested. He had endured physical, emotional and psychological abuse during his imprisonment, according to his family, but resolutely stated that he would not renounce his Christian faith to escape punishment.
Naghmeh Abedini often shared that their two young children, aged 9 and 5, have missed their father terribly and it was difficult as a mother to endure her children's pain. With news that Saeed has indeed been released, the family will finally be reunited after years apart.
"We are grateful for the release of Pastor Saeed. The prayers of the Body of Christ all over the world have been answered," reflected Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "This day of celebration should remind us to pray and work all the more for the multitudes still persecuted for their faith all over the world, including in Iran. We hope and long for the day when Iran, and nations like it, are free from those who wish to enslave the conscience at the point of a sword."