WASHINGTON -- The young son of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his faith, celebrated his fifth birthday over the weekend. But the one wish he wanted didn't come true: He wanted to see his daddy.
In the meantime, Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, continues to fight valiantly for her husband's release. After tearfully testifying on Capitol Hill Friday, she received hugs and hope that her family will be reunited.
The official reason for her husband's imprisonment is that he was threatening Iran's national security. But the family says the real reason is he's a Christian.
Pastor Saeed was taken into custody in Iran last July while helping to build an orphanage.
How can you pray for Naghmeh and her husband? She spoke about this and more, on Christian World News, March 22, following this report.
- You can sign the American Center for Law and Justice's petition to free Saeed here.
Naghmeh told the crowd how difficult it is to explain to their two children, Rebekka, 6, and Jacob, who just turned 5 on Saturday, why their daddy suddenly lost contact with them.
"We didn't know where he was for a week," she testified Friday before the Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"They kept coming to the computer saying, 'Mommy, can we see Daddy? Can we hear his voice?' And I kept saying, 'No, you can't.' I couldn't explain to them why -- that he was physically taken to prison," she continued.
"And finally they kept saying, 'Does Daddy not love us anymore? Does Daddy not want to hear our voices anymore?' And I had to tell them that he was imprisoned because he loved Jesus," Naghmeh said.
Friday's hearing highlighted the plight of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran -- especially for Baha'i and Christian converts. Many are arrested, detained, or executed.
Pastor Saeed's attorneys said his eight-year sentence amounts to a death penalty. His family in Iran said he's been tortured, beaten, and is now bleeding internally.
Silence from Obama Administration
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council called on Iran to release "prisoners of conscience," mentioning Saeed by name.
Meanwhile, his supporters say the U.S. State Department and White House have been mostly silent.
"The president should be naming names," Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said. "Ronald Reagan did that. He talked about specific names. He risked superpower confrontations when he spoke about (Natan) Sharansky."
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the Abedini family, believes the administration's silence reflects "political sensitivities."
"I do believe that because he's a convert and left Islam that has complicated the government's reaction," ACLJ Chief Counsel Jordan Sekulow said. "I think if he was a political opponent of the regime, they would be much more outspoken."
Lawmakers and human rights advocates want the administration to be a forceful voice for religious freedom throughout the world.
Human Rights Legislation
Many on Capitol Hill are doing their part, not just by holding hearings but by introducing legislation.
One such bill being re-introduced would create a special position at the State Department charged with defending religious minorities in the Middle East and south central Asia. It passed in the House but the Senate blocked it.
Naghmeh said she's disappointed by the White House and State Department's lack of response, but she won't give up.
She said her faith and her children's faith have been strengthened by the support and prayers of fellow believers.
"Our worry was they might resent Christ or their Christian faith because it has taken daddy away," she said. "But they've grown. They worship, they pray every night, and now they're proud he's in prison because he loves Jesus -- because they love him so very much also."
Meanwhile, the State Department is hoping that Iran will release Pastor Saeed and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, jailed for alleged espionage, as a gesture of goodwill during the upcoming Persian new year.