American-Iranian Pastor Saeed Abedini was set free from prison on Saturday (16 January) as part of a prisoner exchange between the US and Iranian governments. The father-of-two has spent more than three years in prison for his involvement in Iran’s house church movement, and has suffered terrible abuse during his imprisonment.
“It is confirmed: Saeed is released!” wrote Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saeed’s wife, on social media on the morning of his release. She woke the couple’s two children, aged nine and seven, to tell them the good news of their father’s freedom. After briefly passing through a US military hospital in Germany, the 35-year-old pastor returned safely to the US.
Saeed Abedini had come from a Muslim background but converted to Christianity and moved to the US in 2005 after Iranian authorities confronted him for his involvement in planting house churches. However, on a return visit to Iran in 2012 he was arrested and charged with threatening Iran’s national security through planting house churches.
He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in Tehran’s Evin prison but was transferred in 2013 to Rajai Shahr prison. During the nearly three and a half years that he spent in prison, he was subjected to brutal interrogations, beatings and repeated threats that he would not be released if he did not return to Islam.
Pastor Saeed was released as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the US and Iranian governments. Three other Iranian-Americans were also released: Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former US Marine Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi.
According to Mohabat News, more than 400 Christians have been arrested since 2012 in Iran. Muslim background converts to Christianity, who meet secretly in house churches, are fiercely persecuted by Iranian authorities. Only the Armenian and Assyrian recognised Christian minorities are allowed to have church buildings.