Special Report by International Christian Concern
Originally published in Persecution.org
After more than 200 days in Iran’s Evin Prison, known for its brutal treatment of prisoners, letters from American-Iranian Pastor Saeed Abedini reveal that he is clinging to joy in the midst of intense persecution.
Since his imprisonment in Evin Prison, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for being a “threat to national security,” Pastor Abedini continues to be denied medical treatment for internal bleeding due to injuries sustained through repeated beatings and physical torture.
In a malicious act of psychological torture, prison officials recently took him to hospital, only to bring him back without any medical treatment. They taunted him by telling him it would be two months before he saw a doctor. After returning from the hospital, prison officials severely beat him on the same day, continuing their effort to torture the faith out of him.
Response to torture
Abedini – a former Muslim who was being trained to be a suicide bomber – has been promised to be released if he recants his Christian faith. In a letter obtained by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), he wrote that he was told by Iranian prison officials, “Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your 8 year sentence is finished.”
Abedini’s response, as he wrote, was Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ. He has stated that it is his faith that is keeping him alive. He closed the letter, saying, “Pastor Saeed Abedini, the servant and slave of Jesus Christ in chains, with a lot of joy to see you soon. Evin Prison 9th March 2013.”
On April 15, his family visited him and saw the marks of physical abuse and torture, which have been causing him frequent fainting spells. Abedini told his family that his cellmates recently threatened to suffocate him in his sleep and make his death look like an accident, revealing the extent of the psychological torture he has to endure, along with untreated physical injuries. Guards and the prison nurse have refused to touch him because he is a Christian and, therefore, “Unclean.”
In his letter, he wrote, “When I saw my family for the first time behind the glass walls, I could see my mom four meters away. As she approached me and saw my face, she broke down and could not get closer. She was crying. I understood what she felt because after weeks of being in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, I also got to see my face in the mirror of an elevator that was taking me to the prison hospital. I said hi to the person staring back at me because I did not recognize myself. 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.”
In an effort to encourage Pastor Abedini, a letter-writing initiative of ACLJ, which is representing his wife and two children in the US, has resulted in more than 30,000 people sending words of encouragement to the imprisoned pastor for his 33rd birthday on May 7, 2013. Letters can be written at SaveSaeed.org.
As ACLJ’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow says, “We want Pastor Saeed to know that he is not forgotten and thousands upon thousands of people are fighting for his freedom. It is also an important opportunity to let Iran know that we will not forget about this persecuted pastor. Iranian officials will be reviewing and paying attention to these letters. They will feel the incredible pressure of the world community calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.”
After being sentenced to eight years in prison, Pastor Abedini is Iran’s new object for Christian persecution, symbolizing its national distaste for Christianity and its perceived “Western” heritage. He is the latest in a string of Christians imprisoned for their faith on trumped up charges of being a threat to national security. Over 300 Christians have been “arbitrarily arrested and detained” in the country since June 2010, according to U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.
As ICC’s Middle East Regional Manager, Aidan Clay, says, “Saeed’s arrest, along with the imprisonments of so many other Christians in Iran, is part of an ongoing tactic used by the Iranian government to scare and ultimately destroy the church. However, just the opposite is happening as the church in Iran continues to see significant growth. We must not lose hope, but remain ardent in prayer and fight for Saeed’s release by raising as much awareness as possible. Most likely, the Iranian government will listen to nothing else but worldwide condemnation.”
Iran’s efforts to persecute Christianity out of the country could simply turn out to work against its interests as the global Christian community unites to take a stand for Abedini, in prayer, advocacy and pleas for political intervention. The more it persecutes him and other Iranian Christians, the more it loses its credibility and subverts its own reputation in the global community for flouting its international obligations.