Hundreds of people gathered outside the Idaho Capitol in the rain on Thursday afternoon to pray for Boise pastor Saeed Abedini. The Christian pastor has been sentenced to serve eight years in an Iranian prison.
So far, he has been held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for one year. The Iranian government charged Abedini for compromising the country's national security, but his supporters say he was there building an orphanage.
Thursday, the Boise crowd showed its support by singing Christian worship songs, swaying and praying together – and some people got emotional. Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, led the vigil.
“To see so many standing and praying, and standing with our family – literally through the storm – was amazing," she says. "It’s so encouraging, and makes this journey so much easier.”
Since her husband's imprisonment, Nagmeh Abedini has become a vocal champion for his release. She just returned from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where the newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made two major speeches this week. Rouhani has also done some high-profile interviews with American journalists.
“CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed [President Hassan Rouhani] and she did ask about Saeed, so his case was brought up many times in New York," Nagmeh says. "So the president of Iran is well aware of my request to free him.”
Nagmeh Abedini says she was able to hand-deliver a message to Rouhani’s delegation while she was in New York. That letter – along with recent press coverage – makes her feel some new hope for her husband’s release.
She says her 7-year-old daughter Rebekka got to see the support from Idahoans firsthand.
“A lot of times I tell her, ‘so many people are fighting to get daddy home,’ and for her to see the crowd – I usually don’t bring her to many of these events. But for her to see the crowd was very encouraging to her as well.”
Nagmeh Abedini says her daughter has had two birthdays since her father has been in prison. They hope that another one doesn't pass before he is released.
“The best way for the Iranian government to follow-up on their words is action, and this would be a great opportunity with the Iranian president in the U.S. for him to release American prisoners.”
Prayer vigils like the one in Boise happened in 70 other U.S. cities Thursday. An online letter writing campaign asking the newly elected Iranian president to let Saeed Abedini return home is also underway.