- (Photo: ACLJ.org)
Pastor Saeed Abedini, the American pastor serving an 8-year sentence in Tehran, Iran, is being pressured into converting back to Islam, but he has said that that will never happen.
"After all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ," Abedini wrote in a letter obtained by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who is representing his wife and two children back in America.
The pastor, however, has said that "they will never get this from me," and expressed his gratitude to the over 260,000 people who have signed a petition calling for his release.
Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ Executive Director, said that he hopes that number will climb to 300,000 before his organization meets with U.N. Human Rights officials on March 5.
"Now is the time to redouble our efforts to save this courageous pastor, this U.S. citizen, from the darkness of an Iranian prison," Sekulow wrote.
The Iranian-born pastor is currently serving an eight year sentence in Evin Prison in Tehran, where he has been held since his arrest in September 2012. The Iranian court convicted him of endangering national security, but the ACLJ say that the real reason behind the trial was that Abedini has helped many Christians in underground churches in Iran since his conversion to Christianity in 2000.
Abedini, who then married his American wife, Naghmeh, was working on an orphanage for underprivileged children when he was arrested by Iranian authorities in September.
A number of notable Christian leaders, including Bart Millard, lead singer of the Dove award-winning Christian band Mercy Me, have called for Abedini's release. Naghmeh said that her husband was encouraged when she was allowed to visit him in prison recently and share with him the amount of prayers and support he has been receiving.
"When I first met Saeed, music was an important part of worship and prayer," Naghmeh said. "He would often listen to Christian radio. When he heard about Savesaeed.org and the number of artists that he admired he was encouraged by their involvement – advocating for his release. It brought him hope as he suffers in his dark prison."
Last week, more than 80 U.S. Senators and Representatives called on Secretary of State John Kerry to "exhaust every possible option" to try and secure the release of pastor Abedini.
"Every American citizen traveling or living abroad should have the assurance that the U.S. government will come vigorously to his or her defense if they are unjustly detained or imprisoned," the congressmen's letter reads.
"We respectfully request that you continue to use every diplomatic avenue possible, in cooperation with our allies and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to secure Mr. Abedini's unconditional release and personally and publicly condemn his arbitrary detention in a statement."
Kerry has condemned "Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion" and has called on authorities to release the imprisoned pastor.