A pastor from Boise has been sentenced to 8 years in an Iranian prison. Saeed Abedini was convicted over the weekend of attempting to undermine state security in Iran.
Abedini, who's of Iranian origin, has been jailed in Iran since September. His wife and two children live in Boise.
The non-profit American Center for Law and Justice represents Abedini’s wife and children and has been monitoring the case in Iran. Tiffany Barrans is the International Legal Director with the center. She says they found out early Sunday morning that Abedini had been convicted.
"Our reaction of course is devastation," says Barrans. "We’re devastated for this family. This is such a clear example of Iran is just really trampling on international human rights and the fundamentals that everyone deserves. So there’s pure devastation but of course we are that much more resigned to make sure that we continue to work to see that he’s released."
Here's part of our interview with Barrans:
Q. What has the Iranian Revolutionary Court charged him with?
A. They said he was intentionally undermining the security of Iran by leading Christian house churches between 2000 and 2005.
Q. So this has been unfolding for a while?
A. It goes back a long ways and it’s almost an ex post facto thing. In the United States we understand that you can’t be charged with a crime that wasn’t a crime when you committed the act. But from 2000 to 2005 we had a very different regime in Iran and having a Christian house church wasn’t illegal, in fact it’s technically not even illegal today, but it wasn’t even considered a security threat between those years. So, sadly, we find ourselves in a situation where Saeed has been sentenced to 8 years in prison for a crime that wasn’t even a crime during the years he committed the alleged illegal activity. It’s quite a sad story.
Q. Abedini has been building an orphanage in Iran. Hasn’t he traveled back and forth nine times to Iran?
A. He had some problems in 2009 and he made an agreement with the regime, essentially agreeing to stop leading these house churches. He has fully complied with that agreement. In fact it was encouraged that he could continue to come back and forth for humanitarian efforts. So he has openly worked with the Iranian government to build a non-sectarian orphanage in Iran. The building was 80 percent complete. This was the ninth trip since 2009, the first eight without incident, and this ninth trip he was there to approve the final board members so they would soon be able to open the doors of this orphanage, with the government’s permission and unfortunately they picked him up for his Christian activities that he exercised between 2000 and 2005.
Q. What’s next for Saeed?
A. He has 20 days for an appeal inside Iran, but of course this is an appeal in the same court that didn’t give him a fair trial in the first place, so we don’t necessarily hang our hope on that appeal. Instead, we recognize that there is so much power behind an international campaign where countries that do have influence, who do have diplomatic and economic relationships with Iran, can put influence on Iran to uphold this citizen’s rights. So, we are at that stage where we hope that our government, led by our state department will be the first to act aggressively and make sure all efforts are focused to freeing Saeed.
Q. How is his family holding up?
A. As you can imagine this is a very difficult time for his family, both his family here in the United States, his wife and two beautiful children, and also his family who remains in Tehran who are currently under house arrest. They are, of course, devastated at the thought that they might not get to see their father, their husband, their brother, their son again. We did learn today that unfortunately that the phone calls, that although were very few and far between that his wife and children were able to have, have been rejected at this point. His wife, who is here in the U.S., is not even certain when she’ll be able to hear her husband’s voice again, or when her kids will be able to hear his voice again. We’re going to make some efforts in hopes that Iran will recognize the importance of that relationship and reinstate those calls.
Tiffany Barrans says the American Center for Law and Justice has more than 260,000 signatures, mostly Americans, on a petition asking for the State Department, the White House, and Congress to urge the Iranian government to release Abedini.
The Center has a new petition, asking for signatures worldwide, encouraging people to support the Boise Pastor.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio