Idaho U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, urging action to help free 32-year-old Saeed Abedini from his homeland before his trial on Monday.
Saeeds efforts to provide humanitarian relief and exercise fundamental human rights should be applauded, not condemned, the letter reads. We should not stand idly by while the Iranian regime arbitrarily persecutes a U.S. citizen who has committed no crime.
A spokesman for the State Department said last week that officials are awaiting the outcome of Abedinis trial.
Christianity is outlawed in Iran.
We call on Iranian officials to respect Irans own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney, a prepared statement read. The State Department declined further comment this week when contacted by the Idaho Statesman.
Brad Hoaglun, Rischs spokesman, said international relationships make the request problematic. The problem, as youre probably aware, is we dont have diplomatic relations with Iran, Hoaglun said.
Abedini is an ordained pastor through Calvary Chapel but is not practicing at the Boise location. He was arrested July 28 after traveling to his home country with his wife and two children, ages 4 and 6, to plan an orphanage and visit family members. He was confined to his parents home before armed Iranian guards ransacked it on Sept. 26 and took him to prison.
Lauren Phillips, international outreach coordinator at Calvary Chapel Boise, said she and other church members are concerned.
Were just praying, Phillips said. Praying and getting the word out.
Abedinis Iranian defense lawyer learned of Mondays trial date after being allowed to look at his court file, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian organization thats helping Abedinis family. The group has called on Abedinis supporters to contact Idahos congressional delegation about his case, and many have responded.
About 40 people called Crapos office in Boise on Tuesday, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.
The organization is the only source of public information about the pastors case. It launched a public awareness campaign in December.
Abedinis case has been assigned to Iranian Judge Pir-Abassi, who is notorious for sentencing people to death by hanging.
According to the senators letter, Abedini was interrogated and beaten at least once before being repeatedly assaulted while forced to share a cell with a member of al-Qaida The letter is signed by Risch, Crapo and nine other U.S. senators.
Abedini, who converted to Christianity about 12 years ago, has been held captive in his home country before. He was freed in 2009 after being arrested.
The Center for Law and Justice said Abedini has traveled to Iran eight times since his 2009 release. Center officials say Abedinis most recent trip was a humanitarian effort not aimed at converting anyone to Christianity.
Phillips said Abedini, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, got approval from Iranian officials to build an orphanage on his parents property there.
The Center for Law and Justice said Saeeds attorney found only one charge against him, which relates to a house church movement he helped start in Iran in 2000, the year he converted.
The center released a typed transcript of a letter Abedini wrote to his family.
This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus, Abedini said in the letter. One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy.
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418