Iranian Judge Sentences US Pastor to Eight Years

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The American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his faith must serve eight years behind bars. The U.S. State Department says Pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced Sunday. Now there are renewed calls for his release.

Even after months of being misled or kept in the dark by the Iranian government, Pastor Saeed's wife Naghmeh says her husband's sentence still comes as a blow.

"The promise of his release was a lie. We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government. These false hopes amount to psychological torture. You don't want to trust them, but they build a glimmer of hope before the crushing blow," she said in a statement released following the Iranian courts ruling Sunday.

Watch CBN News' interview with Pastor Saeed's wife following this report on Monday's Newswatch program.

The court convicted Pastor Saeed of threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in christian house churches. He will serve his time in Evin Prison. It is known as one of the most brutal prisons in Iran.

The American Center for Law and Justice represents Pastor Saeed's wife and their two children. International Legal Director Tiffany Barrans says the hint of release followed by a prison sentence is a cruel game played by Tehran.

"They almost like to play mind games, I think, with the prisoners and with the family. It's a form of intimidation. They know that christians in Iran are feeling that intimidation," she told CBN News.

Barrans says Saeed is treated as an outcast within the prison because of his faith, "When the nurse or the doctor is supposed to give him pain killers for the beatings or any medical treatment, he's denied that because he's considered "unclean," because he's a christian convert. And, so the treatment, not only at the hands of obviously those who are beating him--cellmates, guards in the prison and interrogators--but even those who are supposed to give him the basic fundamentals like health care and even pain killers are being denied at this time."

Both the U.S. State Department and the White House have decried the guilty verdict. State Department spokesman Darby Holladay called for his release and said, quote, "We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion."

Sign the petition to free American Pastor Saeed in Iran.

CBN News' White House Correspondent asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about Saeed's plight in Monday's briefing, "Given the lack of diplomatic relations the U.S. has with Iran, what, realistically, can the Administration do in this case and other cases like it? Should his family have any hope that there is anything the U.S. can do to help in the situation?"

"We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini. As you know, the State Department is in close contact with the Abedini family and is actively engaged in this case. For further details, I think the State Department is the best place to go. We obviously have a variety of means, including this podium, to express our views on matters like this and we are very concerned about this, about the process that led to this," he answered.

Barrans welcomes the government's statements but says they need to do more, "Our government needs to take the lead on standing for religious freedom and making sure that every back door channel, every third party connection and government that can uphold its rights of the citizens in iran, but also world citizens like Pastor Saeed, and so we do hope that our government will take that stand."

Tiffany Barrans, chief international counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, shared her thoughts about the case on the CBN News Channel's Morning News, Jan. 28.

ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow added:

“Here’s the troubling reality: we have a U.S. citizen, who has been beaten and tortured since him imprisonment last fall, now facing eight years in Evin Prison, one of the most brutal prisons in Iran. A harsh sentence in a notorious prison – likely facing life-threatening torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime. Simply because of his Christian faith.”

The ACLJ has been working with the U.S. Government and at the United Nations to generate support for Pastor Saeed. Both the White House and teh U.S. State Department have condemned Iran and called for Pastor Saeed’s release.

Although the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said earlier this month that the administration was troubled over Abedini’s imprisonment.

“We remain troubled by the case of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs,” Vietor said. “We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately.”

Pastor Saeed, 32, was granted U.S. citizenship in 2010 through marriage to his American wife. He and his wife, Naghmeh, have two children, a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

In 2008, Pastor Saeed became an ordained minister with the American Evangelistic Association. Naghmeh and the children reside in the western United States.

The Iranian government does not recognize his U.S. citizenship and for three years he travelled freely back and forth from Iran until this summer when he was put under house arrest. He was imprisoned in September.

Pastor Saeed's wife says she won't rest until her husband is home.

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