The mother of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran, has fled the country after the government threatened her with arrest, according to Naghmeh Abedini, Abedini’s wife. Abedini’s mother and two of his siblings are now in a “nearby country” and will head to the United States shortly.
Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor, is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000. Since then, he helped found about 100 churches in 30 Iranian cities with 2,000 members. Those churches are housed in private homes.
"Saeed's mum has been under constant threat and intimidation by the Iranian government as she has been following up on Saeed's case (clemency, hospital ....) and now she is forced to leave Iran because of it and threat of being arrested," Naghmeh wrote on Facebook. "The government (magistrate) has now said that clemency is no longer an option and they will not allow Saeed to be treated at the hospital."
The churches Abedini founded, which are not formally recognized by the government, provided a place for former Muslims who have converted to Christianity to pray. However, when President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was elected in 2005, the house church movement suffered a crackdown forcing Abedini, his wife and two children to return to the United States.
Abedini -- whose wife and two children live in Boise, Idaho -- had returned to Iran on numerous occasions before his recent arrest. In 2009, during his first trip back, he was detained and questioned over his conversion to Christianity. He was released after signing an agreement he would no longer participate in the home church movement in the country.
In July 2012, Abedini visited Iran to help build an orphanage in the city of Rasht. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested him. In January, he was charged with compromising national security and was sentenced to eight years in prison. There, he has reportedly been beaten by inmates and guards.
"We remain concerned about the health and safety of Pastor Saeed, who continues to be held in an Iranian prison because of his faith,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which has lobbied U.S. and U.N. officials on behalf of Abedini. “We know that he needs medical care for injuries received during his captivity. It is an increasingly frustrating time for Pastor Saeed and his family, both in this country and in Iran.”
The U.S. State Department, which does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, has repeatedly called for Abedini’s release. In September 2013, President Barack Obama raised the issue during a phone call with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.
Abedini isn’t the only Christian pastor detained in Iran. In 2011, Pastor Behnam Irani was sentenced to six years in prison for his Christian activities, which included leading a 300-member evangelical congregation in Karaj, a city near Tehran. In September, Irani was met with 18 new charges for "spreading corruption on Earth" and sentenced to an additional six years. He is reportedly facing health problems including internal bleeding, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad was arrested in July for “crimes against God.” He has been sentenced to six years in prison. Deacon Silas Rabbani was arrested on May 5 on the same charge after authorities raided his home and confiscated his laptop, Bibles and other Christian materials.
In a recent report, the U.N. estimates at least 300 people are being held by authorities in Iran, which is majority Shiite Muslim, for their religious practices; 49 have been identified as Christians, 126 are members of the Baha'i community, at least nine Sufi Muslims and 150 Sunni Muslims.