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This Christmas season a wife in Idaho is left without her husband and two young children, 7 and 5, are left without their father who is suffering in an Iranian prison because of his religious beliefs.
As we have written before, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian born U.S. citizen, sits in one of the most deadly prisons in Iran. Last month, the Iranian regime transferred him from one of the worst prisons in the world, Evin, to the deadliest prison in Iran, Rajai Shahr. Housing the most dangerous of criminals in Iran – rapists and murderers – Rajai Shahr is where Iran sends you to disappear or be murdered at the hands of other prisoners.
His crime? His Christian faith.
He’s been imprisoned for more than a year – serving an 8-year sentence where he has been beaten – facing physical and psychological abuse – for his refusal to recant his Christian faith.
Now, even worse, since his prison transfer, he is being denied critical medication he was prescribed for those injuries. His Iranian family reports that Pastor Saeed is now suffering from malnutrition, lice infestation, increased pain, and weight loss as a result of utterly deplorable prison conditions.
Pastor Saeed’s wife summed it up this way when she testified before Congress earlier this month:
Since he arrived at Rajaï Shahr, he has been repeatedly threatened and robbed at knifepoint. At times he has awoken to find a knife-wielding prisoner standing over him at his bed.
Prisoners have murdered other prisoners, while prison officials stood by and did nothing. In that place, nothing but the hand of God keeps him from being killed. Each day he remains in that dreadful place could mean a death sentence; any day could be execution day.
Yet, even amidst the travesty and torture that Pastor Saeed is forced to endure at the hands of his Iranian captors, his faith in Christ shines through.
Pastor Saeed’s Iranian family was able to retrieve some of the items Pastor Saeed had in Evin prison – mementoes he was forced to leave behind when he was abruptly transferred prisons.
Included in these belongings, like a personal diary and other effects, were two visible and inspiring reminders of who Pastor Saeed is and what he is enduring.
First is a sign that hung above his bed in Evin prison, which simply and poignantly reads, “Privilege of Suffering for Christ.” The second is a hand-carved wooden cross.
Pastor Saeed is suffering for his Christian faith. His health is deteriorating, and he is prohibited from receiving medication. Yet, he has not forgotten the God he serves, even as he is in chains for the Gospel.
As Americans, as people of faith, we must be willing to take a firm stand for those who are willing to stand by their faith.
The U.S. government must be willing to stand up for our own citizens. It must be willing to do everything within its power to defend the most basic human rights of its citizens when they are trampled and flaunted by a foreign nation.
The Obama Administration has not made this issue a priority. It refused to even ask for Saeed’s release as a pre-condition to its nuclear negotiations.
Iran’s proclivity toward human rights violations and religious persecution should be an obvious preclusion to any legitimate “deal” on the world stage unless and until they are able to show, not through words, but through verifiable actions that they have changed. Releasing Pastor Saeed would be a positive step in the right direction.
But if our nation fails to ask, how can we expect Iran to do differently?
As we celebrate the Christmas season, let us too remember the reason for the season and those who are suffering for the Gospel.
And be willing as a nation to take the tough stand, to defend the defenseless, and be the voice for the voiceless.
It’s one of the main reasons we celebrate the birth of the One who made the lame walk and the blind men see each year, and it must be a national priority.