VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer
BOISE, Idaho – Naghmeh Abedini’s life has been turned upside down.
Her husband, Saeed, an Iranian-born pastor who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, is imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, known by human rights watchdog groups as one of the most brutal in all the world. Saeed was arrested a year ago at his parents’ home in Iran by five Revolutionary Guards who charged the house. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for threatening “national security,” which is often used by Iranian courts to imprison converts from Islam for various sorts of evangelistic activities.
“Saeed was in Iran to work with the Iranian government on an orphanage on the land that Saeed’s father inherited from his father,” Naghmeh said in an exclusive telephone interview Sept. 17. “He is being imprisoned for his belief in Jesus Christ. He was keeping his promise to do humanitarian work, but they arrested him on a charge of gathering Christians in an attempt to undermine the Iranian government.”
After Saeed was taken, Naghmeh didn’t hear anything from him or about him for a week.
“I didn’t know where he was or if he was alive,” she said. “I knew my phone was being checked, so I made a phone call and said if I didn’t find out soon, that I would go to the media. Almost immediately, I received a phone call from Saeed and he told me he was at Evin.”
Naghmeh reported that Saeed has been beaten and tortured more than once. She was able to visit him earlier this year and was “horrified at his physical appearance. He is undergoing psychological and physical torture and they offer to free him if he denies his beliefs,” she said.
Two appeals to an Iranian court to have his eight-year sentence reduced have been rejected, one most recently in August.
Hope for Saeed’s release has grown after Iranians recently elected a new president. That prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to call on Iranian authorities to release Saeed.
“The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help … Saeed Abedini” to be returned to his family. It marked the second time Kerry has spoken on behalf of Saeed. In March, Kerry said he was “deeply concerned” about the pastor and was “disturbed by reports” that he was suffering physical and psychological abuse.
While such efforts have failed, Naghmeh remains critical of President Obama’s inaction in the matter.
“He hasn’t said a word,” she said. “I’ve talked with representatives of other countries and they say, ‘Your government is silent.’ My husband is being held illegally because he is a Christian convert and no one is making them accountable.”
Saeed’s captivity has included solitary confinement at least twice and has been beaten repeatedly. “That (being in Evin) is like a death sentence,” she said, “it is surprising that he has survived this year.”
Through the ordeal, Naghmeh holds to her faith.
“I know that God is working and Saeed’s imprisonment is not in vain,” she said. “In June, I spoke to the United Nations in Geneva. I was able to share the gospel to representatives of more than 100 countries. Each heard what I said in their language through their ear piece. I shared that Jesus is the only answer to real peace.”
Naghmeh also reported that she has been interviewed on Voice of America Persia as well as the BBC Farsi.
“I was able to speak about Jesus to 50 million Muslims,” she said. “Our prayer is that God will use this ordeal to bring the gospel to Muslims around the world through the working of the Holy Spirit.”
“Saeed also reported that more than 30 people have come to Christ in prison,” she said, “so God is using this for the Kingdom and it is not in vain.”
The Abedinis have two children, a daughter, 7, and a son, 5.
“It is difficult because we celebrated a birthday and it is the second birthday and it will be the second Christmas without their dad.”
“I’ve learned through my weakness and insecurity and to depend on Christ for every source of joy, strength and peace.” Naghmeh said she clings to II Cor. 12:9-10. “I love that Paul delights in his hardships and persecutions,” she said, “and I wondered how he could delight in his trials and not just endure them. Our culture says to run away from difficulties, but He allows us to be broken, so that we draw closer to Him. When I cling to Him, I receive more of Him. When I connect to the vine, the fruit comes.”
Naghmeh said Saeed’s imprisonment is a wake-up call. “More than 100,000 Christians are persecuted each year,” she said. “Remember to pray for those imprisoned or tortured, but also remember to pray for their families. Be there for each other and be involved in what is going on in the world.”
On Sept. 26, marking the one year anniversary of Abedini’s arrest, Christians are gathering at all 50 U.S. state capitol buildings to pray for her husband. More information about Saeed is available on www.savesaeed.org.