US-Iranian pastor sentenced to eight years in prison

Tue 29 Jan 2013
By Sarah McAllister

Saeed Abedini, who is married to a US national, was arrested last September while on a family visit to Iran.

Anti-persecution human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide is criticising a decision by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran to jail US-Iranian Pastor Saeed Abedinigalangashi. The organisation's accusing the Islamic state of failing to uphold due process in his case. It's also claiming the charges against him are couched in political terms and believe the charges primarily stem from his conversion to Christianity in 2000.

Mr Abedini is a convert to Christianity with dual United States/Iranian nationality. According to the Christian organisation, his case was heard at the Revolutionary Court Branch 26 in Tehran on January 21st by Pir-Abbassi, a notoriously harsh judge.

CSW also said there was no public access to the courtroom, and Mr Abedini had limited access to his legal representative. Mr Abedini's case file, seen by CSW, is said to be based primarily on his past leadership position in a house church network.

It's claimed his lawyer only received the file details and charges in January 2013, despite the fact that his client has been detained since September 2012. Speaking to Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour, CSW spokesperson Dr Khataza Gondwe has urged Tehran to respect freedom of religion and belief, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is signatory:

Mr Abedini was detained on 26 September 2012, after security officers raided his parent's home and was taken to Evin prison, where he was held in solitary confinement. He was then moved to a general prison within the political section of Evin Prison in November 2012.

He's reported to have suffered physical assaults on several occasions, and has also been subject to psychological pressure.  According to Mr Abedini's wife, his lawyer will appeal the charges within 20 days.

Meanwhile, Shadow Employment Minister and Labour's vice chair for faith groups Stephen Timms has just returned from a fact finding mission in Turkey. During his visit he met persecuted Christian Iranians who have been forced to flee their homes. Writing for the Left Foot Forward website, the Labour MP said that despite persecution he believes the Iranian Church is growing fast.  Mr Timms also said Iranian Christians he met maintain the regime's propaganda against Christians is widely disbelieved. However, the Christian MP says the persecution continues.

He said: "We met a lot of remarkable Christians. In Kayseri, we met Matthew, who described his arrest – alongside his wife, who was also imprisoned for a period – on a charge of “action against the security of the nation”, which can carry a six-year sentence. 

"He was in prison with Farshid Fathi. His imprisonment lasted three months, including a month in solitary confinement."

Mr Timms is now urging Ministers on overseas visits to make a point of meeting with religious minorities.  Visits like that, he says, are a source of "great encouragement for groups being persecuted, and make it harder for governments to cover up what is happening".

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