Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Iranian-American Christian Pastor, Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to 8 years in Iran’s infamously brutal Evin Prison in 2012 for his faith, addresses the 6th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Naghmeh Abedini: Good afternoon, it’s good to be here, (gestures towards image on screen), that’s my husband, my name is Naghmeh Abedini, I stand before you not as a lawyer, or a journalist, or scholar but the wife of a husband in prison in Iran. My husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-born American citizen pastor, who has been beaten, severely abused and sentenced to eight years in Iran’s most deadly prison, simply because of his Christian faith.
At present, my husband’s suffering from internal injuries that have been resulted from beatings and up to now, the Iranian government has denied any medical care that is needed to treat his injuries. So he is in a lot of pain and he is continuously tortured.
My husband was born and raised in Iran. In the year 2000, Saeed exercised his god-given right to choose his own religion, to Christianity. Freedom of religion, including the right to change one’s religion, is a god-given right of all people, including the Iranian people. No human law should infringe on that right.
Soon after his conversion, Saeed was educated in a Bible School inside of Iran under a government-approved church, under the then-president Khatami of Iran. Saeed and other Bible School students were able to gather peacefully in houses with fellow Christians. In fact, even today, it is not unlawful to peacefully gather for religious reasons in private homes; believers of Shia Islam do so in Iran without disruption. But unfortunately, other religions, minorities, that lawfully gather, are treated as a threat against the national security of Iran.
Saeed and I met in 2002m soon after I went to Iran, and we were married in 2004. We encouraged other Christian believers to gather peacefully in private homes. but in 2005, we had to leave Iran and come to the US after Iran had elected a new President, named Ahmadinejad. President Ahmadinejad vowed that he would uproot Christianity from Iran and in an attempt to uphold his vow, the Iranian regime increased its persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.
For four years, Saeed and I lived outside of Iran. We had two beautiful children together; Rebecca, who’s seven now, and Jacob who’s five. They haven’t seen their father in two years, almost, since they were three and five, who had been cut off from their Iranian heritage and family. For this reason we travelled to Iran in 2009 and it was towards the end of that visit that Saeed was summoned by the Iranian government and was allowed to return to the US only after two months of interrogation.
Motivated by his faith, Saeed had always believed that he was to honour government authorities. When the Iranian government requested that he cease all activities with the Iranian house churches, he agreed. In return, Iran agreed to allow Saeed to freely travel to Iran. TThey even encouraged him to start a humanitarian effort. Since 2009, Saeed has upheld his agreement. But unfortunately, Saeed travelled to Iran more than nine times between 2009 and 2012 and work[ed] closely with the Iranian government to open a non-secretariat orphanage in the north of Iran. Never did Saeed anticipate that when he left for Iran in June of 2012, that the Iranian government would break their agreement and arrest him.
In a letter he wrote to our seven-year-old daughter on her seventh birthday, he spoke of how heartbroken he was that his attempt to help Iranian orphans had left his own children without a father. My daughter, when she turned six she asked me, she said “Mommy, am I gonna have my daddy on my next birthday?” And I said: “yes, we’re gonna get him home.” And when she turned seven she looked at me with tears in her eyes and she said “Mommy, how many more birthdays?” And I vowed to make that short, and to bring him home before her next birthday.
June 2012 was the last time the children and I saw my husband and their father. Saeed had planned to return from Iran to our family in a few weeks, when his passport was unexpectedly taken in July of 2012 and when he was put under house arrest. In September of 2012 my worst nightmare began, when Revolutionary Guards, who are considered a terrorist group by many nations, raided the house that Saeed was staying at and viciously took him.
For several days, his whereabouts were unknown. My life was suddenly turned upside down. Iran’s brutality and violation of my husband’s basic human rights opened my eyes to new realities of injustices and sufferings too many people endure. I could no longer keep silent. I was personally affected.
I’m reminded of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who’s spoke out against Adolf Hitler and spent the last 7 years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp. He said, “first they came for the Socialists, I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionist, I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
My new reality forced me out of my self-consumed life and as a small-town girl and an everyday mom who was born in Iran, raised in a small city in America called Boise, Idaho, I realised that I had a voice that I had not used before. Until I was personally affected by the injustices that many others have faced and continued to face, I realised that as a human being, I’m responsible to speak out for those who are being silenced in Iran. For the Christians, for the Jews, for the Bahai’s, who are one of the top persecuted religious minorities in Iran, and other fellow human beings who are being tortured and imprisoned in Iran, simply because of their belief[s].
As a wife and a mother who’s had to watch my children suffer daily and miss their father terribly, I could no longer close my eyes to the pain of prisoners of conscience and the cries of their hurting families that I had come to know. I have to tell you it’s been painful talking to families of other prisoners inside of Iran, talking to their kids who don’t understand when they visit their father why they have to be torn away and why he’s behind prison walls because he believes differently. And recently, one of the daughters called my daughter on the phone and said, “Rebecca I saw your daddy,” because behind the glass windows they see other prisoners. and she was trying to describe to my daughter how her daddy looked. It’s painful seeing children suffer that don’t understand what’s happening.
Christian and religious minorities in Iran are not allowed to gather peacefully and practise their religion. Practice of thought and belief outside of what the Iranian government has imposed on its people is considered a threat to the national security of Iran and holds heavy sentences and imprisonment. Prisoners of conscience are considered political prisoners. House churches are continually raided, government-approved building churches are rapidly being shut down, thousands of Bibles have been burned, thousands of Christians have had to flee Iran and become refugees, and thousands more lose jobs, education opportunities and face imprisonment and arrest because of their faith.
Thousands of prisoners of conscience languish in Iranian prisons, but millions more live outside of the prison walls. They are true prisoners of conscience, who are afraid to think and believe differently than what is imposed on them by the Iranian government. They live under the bondage of fear; they are bound, and imprisoned and unable to realise the fullness of their divinely given human rights.
Saadi, an Iranian poet, wrote a poem called Bani Adam that is inscribed on the United Nations entrance. It says, ‘Sons of Adams are limbs of each other, having been created of one essence, when the calamity of time affects one limb, the other limbs cannot remain unrest.’ If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others, you’re unworthy to be called the name of a human.
I’m also reminded as a Christian of a scripture in the Bible that was written over 2,000 years ago, I Corinthians 12:26; “If one member suffers, all members suffer with it. If one member is honoured, all members rejoice with it.” You see, as human beings, we’re all connected, we’re all called by God to speak out and act against injustice. It is ironic that Iran, which once was at the forefront of defending human rights and religious freedom, is now considered, by many, to be one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. There was a time when human Iranian rulers, such as King Cyrus, not only defended religious minorities such as the Jews, but they helped support them. We read in the book of Ezra, in the Bible, that King Cyrus, a great Persian king that’s part of our heritage, helped rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra 6:3, “in the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem: let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices and let the foundations be firmly laid.”The Islamic Republic of Iran tries to rewrite history by claiming that Christianity is a religion imposed on Iranians from the West. Nothing is farther from the truth. Christianity’s roots in Iran predate Islam by over 600 years. Iran is a Muslim nation and has every right to be to be so, but unlike present-day Iran, King Cyrus recognized that there’s essential value in polarity of ideas and beliefs. Recognizing the importance of plurality, King Cyrus declared religious freedom for all on what is now known as the Cyrus Cylinder. In 1971 the Cyrus Cylinder was described as the world’s first charter of human rights and was translated to six different official UN languages. Passages in the text of the Cylinder have been interpreted expressing Cyrus’ respect for humanity, and as promoting a form of religions tolerance and freedom
It is sad that Iran, who once stood for religious freedom, is in bondage, and Iran needs our help. My husband, Saeed Abedini, has been imprisoned in the Islamic Republic of Iran for one reason and one reason only. That is because he chose to put his faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, and has been following him since as his Lord. My husband found ultimate freedom when his life was transformed by this forgiveness of sin that he found in Jesus Christ. Saeed believes that Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth to save him from his sins and he was raised to life after three days. Saeed was given a new life and hope in Jesus Christ. In John 3:16 we’re told that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This is the everlasting life and forgiveness of sin that Saeed discovered to be true when he converted in the year 2000. Saeed’s choice to follow Jesus Christ, like so many converts in Iran, is a protected, fundamental human right. Iran once stood for human rights and religious freedom and spread it to the rest of the world. Now it is time for the world to stand up for the citizens of Iran, whose rights should be equally respected as the rights of other citizens of the world.
Iranians must have the freedom to choose how they want to think and believe without being labelled a threat to the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Saeed is just one of many faces persecuted in Iran. Our family is one of many suffering families. My hope and prayer is that Saeed’s chains would bind us together.
Just as a braided rope is stronger than a single strand, I pray that braided together, we will boldly act to bring about respect and freedom for all religions in Iran. I call upon your conscience to act. Iran is listening. Will you join me in raising your voice for freedom?