WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) marks the three-year anniversary of the imprisonment in Iran of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor. Since September 26, 2012, Pastor Abedini has been jailed unjustly, allegedly for “threatening the national security of Iran.”
“The Iranian government’s continued imprisonment of Pastor Abedini is a gross violation of the internationally-protected right to freedom of religion or belief. The Iranian government actively suppresses any religious belief and activity it disapproves of and denies any semblance of rule of law that meets international standards,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
“USCIRF calls on the Iranian government to ensure Pastor Abedini’s safety and immediately and unconditionally release him. USCIRF also calls on the United States and the international community to raise Pastor Abedini’s case in all international fora, and for the U.S. government to freeze the assets and entry into the U.S. of all Iranian officials responsible for serious violations of religious freedom and related human rights against Pastor Abedini and other prisoners of conscience.”
Pastor Abedini was arrested three years ago for his humanitarian activity in the Christian house church movement and was given an eight-year sentence on January 27, 2013 by “hanging judge” Judge Pir-Abassi. He has spent weeks in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison and was transferred to the Rajai Shahr prison, which is known for its harsh and unsanitary conditions. In both prisons, he has been abused physically and psychologically.
“President Rouhani has failed to improve the climate for religious freedom, particularly for religious minority communities,” said Chairman George. “We urge the White House and State Department to continue to speak out at the highest levels about the severe religious freedom violations in Iran and urge the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Lautenberg Amendment, which provides a much needed lifeline for religious minorities in Iran who are seeking safe haven in the United States.”
Religious freedom conditions in Iran continue to deteriorate, particularly for religious minorities, especially Baha’is, Christian converts, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims. Since President Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August 2013, the number of individuals from religious minority communities who are in prison because of their beliefs has increased. At least 350 religious prisoners of conscience remain in Iranian prisons, including about 150 Sunni Muslims, more than 100 Baha’is, some 90 Christians, and a dozen Sufis.
USCIRF has recommended and the State Department has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for Iran’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.*