The wife of an American pastor being held in the brutal Iranian prison system said he’s receiving death threats from Islamic State militants.
Naghmeh Abedini said it’s more critical than ever for U.S. officials to secure the release of her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been locked up in Iran for nearly two years. This week, she said, her husband told his mother when she visited him at Iran’s Rajai Shahr Prison that he’s come under threat from Islamic State militants locked up with him.
“He [told] his mother that there’s been ISIS prisoners — Iranian citizens who had joined ISIS and the government had arrested them,” Naghmeh Abedini told TheBlaze. “There’s different sections of the ward. The political section, the murder section, and another section [that holds Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants].”
While Saeed Abedini is not in the same ward as Islamic State extremists, his wife said he has been threatened in the prison yard and in the prison’s common area.
His public battle for freedom and the fact that he’s a Christian convert as well as an American is apparently what’s made him an Islamic State target.
“He’s the only Christian, but also Christian convert,” Naghmeh Abedini told TheBlaze. “He’s the only American there in that prison. They all know about him.”
She said that her husband has been forced to hide in his cell to avoid the militants, and said it’s been “intense and dangerous” inside the prison’s walls.
“It’s been pretty intense in the prison, because of these radical ISIS militants wanting his life,” Abedini said. “For him, he’s their number one target. [He's] someone who was Muslim and converted to Christianity.”
She said relatives and friends in Iran have abandoned the family over fears that they, too, could find themselves in officials’ crosshairs. Saeed’s parents, who move between the U.S. and Iran to keep tabs on their son’s condition, are also vulnerable.
The Abedinis’ two young children — 7-year-old Rebekka and 6-year-old Jacob — recently released a video pleading for their father’s release. Naghmeh said that they continue to struggle with his absence.
“I try not to have them watch the news or anything. It’s just another level of stress to know there dad is in prison. I try not to get them involved in a lot of the updates,” she said. “It’s been getting harder, more emotional for them. They’re crying more.”
Naghmeh Abedini said that it’s time to get her husband home to Idaho, particularly in light of the new safety threat. The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal firm that has worked on his case, has said that Al Qaeda members have also threatened the pastor’s life inside the prison.
“This is urgent now,” she said.
Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for evangelizing in the Islamic Republic. He has said he was only in Iran to build an orphanage in 2012 when he was arrested and tried.
As TheBlaze previously reported, Naghmeh Abedini has been very critical of President Barack Obama for what she says is not doing enough to secure her husband’s release.
“I’ve recently heard him make great speeches on Nelson Mandela and people who have been in prison, because of what they believe in and the change they brought to this world,” she told TheBlaze in December. “And here’s an American citizen standing up for his faith and rotting in an Iranian prison and yet there’s silence. And silence, for me, speaks volumes.”
Obama was subsequently vocal during a National Prayer Breakfast address in February when he said he’d do everything in his power to secure the release of Abedini, saying, “Today, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini.”
When Secretary of State John Kerry presented the State Department’s 2013 “International Religious Freedom Report” last month, he spoke of Abedini’s plight as well.
“In Iran, U.S. Iranian citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned. The Iranian authorities sentenced him to eight years behind bars simply because of his religious beliefs,” Kerry said. “We will continue to call for his release and we will continue to work for it.”