By: Jackson Garner
In early September 2011, Naghmeh Abedini was living a typical American life. She was involved with her church, took care of her children, and lived in the suburbs. Her path to America was not so typical: she immigrated to the United States from Iran in 2005 facing persecution for her conversion to Christianity from Islam. Before leaving Iran she met her husband, another Christian convert.
By late September, her life unexpectedly changed. Her husband, Saaed Abedini was arrested while traveling in Iran. Nobody knows definitively why he was arrested, but according to its state run media it was for “threatening the national security of Iran.” What we do know is that he has been imprisoned for
a little over four months in the notorious Evin prison and stood “trial” just days ago. The trial, which simultaneously consisted of him learning his charges on the only day his attorneys could present his defense, resulted in an eight-year sentence.
It comes as no surprise that groups from the United States, like the American Center for Law and Justice, have vehemently opposed the deteriorating treatment of Saeed Abedini. It also comes as no surprise that a theocratic government like Iran arrests a man for trying to spread Christianity in a country deeply rooted in Islam, which is disputed by the defendant. Abedini claims he was not trying to evangelize citizens of Iran, but attempting to create an orphanage.
Unfortunately Abedini’s story is not a new one for Americans. United States Marine Jon Hammar was imprisoned in Mexico last year for bringing a family shotgun into the country but was released just in time for Christmas. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were convicted on charges of sabotaging the security of North Korea in 2009 but were released later that year. The common denominator between these three cases is that they are all Americans and were arrested in a foreign country, on what critics contend were trumped up charges. What is different between all three situations is the response from the State Department.
The two journalists in North Korea were captured in March 2009 and released in August 2009. However, they did not fly home via AirTran Airlines. Bill Clinton made an unannounced trip to North Korea to garner their release. While the Obama administration adamantly defended the assertion that Clinton acted alone on complete humanitarian grounds without assistance from the U.S. government, it is illegal for an American plane to fly directly into North Korea without White House permission, according to the State Department’s website. This suggests that the State Department had a substantial role, if all else is true, to gain the release of Ling and Lee.
Marine Jon Hammar was dishonorably discharged after serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq before being arrested at a Mexican border checkpoint in August 2012. Hammar, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was held in one of the worst prisons in Mexico, like Abedini in Iran. Arguably Hammar’s most enthusiastic supporter was Congresswoman llena Ros-Lehtinen who headlined a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano campaigning for a more aggressive stance by the State Department. Hammar was eventually released on December 21, 2012, and it is still unclear if the more potent force was the State Department or the Congressional outcry.
State Department spokesman Darby Holladay released this statement regarding the current situation: “Mr. Abedini’s attorney had only one day to present his defense, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini’s trial.”
While the State Department did release a statement calling for Abedini’s release, as the world has seen, Iran does not respond to formal statements, sanctions, or threats. Hopefully the State Department is working tirelessly behind the scenes on behalf of Pastor Abedini.
However, if it takes four months for the State Department to leverage Mexico for the release of Hammar, a country we gave almost 270 million dollars in aid to last year, it is unclear what would entice Iran, (a country the United States has no consular relations with), to relinquish a prisoner.
Maybe there is some good news after all. Euna Lee and Laura Ling came home after five months. Pastor Abedini has sat in an Iranian prison for a little over five months. Hopefully Bill Clinton will be flying to Tehran soon.
But do not count on it. The State Department will have to come through on this one.