Saeed Abedini is free; the American pastor is among four prisoners who were released from prison on Saturday in a deal between the United States and Iran.
Abedini has been in prison for more than three years on what were seen as politically motivated charges, with many Christian groups calling on the Obama administration to secure his release. That finally happened this weekend with an announcement in the late morning that Saeed Abedini has been freed.
Among those also set free were Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
UPDATE: U.S. official confirms 4 U.S. prisoners released by Iran: https://t.co/fg3STLBHMB
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Senior U.S. officials confirmed that the four were released as part of a prisoner swap that set free seven Iranians held on sanctions charges. It reportedly took a year of negotiating to reach the deal, officials told CNN.
“Based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the general interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal,” the office of the Tehran prosecutor told FARS, the semi-official new service in Iran.
Saeed Abedini had been arrested in 2012 on charges of attempting to undermine the Iranian government. The Iran native and American citizen had been previously arrested and agreed to stop setting up churches for Iranian Christians. He was trying to build a state-run secular orphanage when he was arrested, CNN reported.
Abedini reportedly suffered a harsh imprisonment, with reports stating that he was tortured and beaten by fellow prisoners in June. He suffered injuries to his face, The American Center for Law and Justice reported, and was reportedly in poor health.
The center reported the news of his release on Saturday, thanking the many groups that had worked together to push for his release:
“This is a major victory. We are incredibly grateful to the more than 1.1 million people who have joined us in fighting across the globe for Pastor Saeed’s freedom.
“We’re delighted this day has finally arrived. American Pastor Saeed Abedini spent more than three years in an Iranian prison. We’re grateful for the millions of people who have stood with us in our ongoing efforts – both in this country and abroad – to secure his release. We have worked and prayed that this day would finally arrive. And now, Pastor Saeed can return home.”
Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, released a statement thanking those who had supported them.
“This has been an answer to prayer,” she said. “This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”
She had earlier told The Christian Post that prison officials threatened to increase his term unless he renounced Christianity, which he reused to do.
“The times they have moved him in and out of solitary [confinement] and the times they have threatened him, they said ‘You will stay here longer than the eight years and your only key to freedom is if you deny your Christian faith and you return to Islam.’ The guards have said that, officials have said that continuously,” Abedini said.
Saeed’s wife had been leading efforts to set him free, with the cause taking off among American Christian groups. But at the same time she admitting struggling with issues within their marriage, including allegations of emotional abuse.
With Saeed Abedini now freed, it is not immediately clear when he will be able to leave Iran.
[Image via ACLJ.org]