For more than three years, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini – a U.S. citizen – has endured imprisonment in Iran. He is now free.
Iran freed Abedini along with three other U.S. prisoners, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, senior U.S. administration officials said on Saturday.
A fifth man — described as a recently detained student named Matthew Trevithick– was released separately released, U.S. officials said.
As part of a negotiated prisoner swap, Iran agreed to release the four prisoners in exchange for the release of seven Iranians held by the United States on sanctions charges. The United States also agreed to drop charges against 14 other Iranians whose extradition seemed unlikely. The deal comes after more than a year of secret negotiations between Iran and the United States, officials said.
“It is confirmed,” Abedini’s wife Naghmeha announced on Twitter. “Saeed is released from Iranian prison.”
“This has been an answer to prayer,” she said in a press release from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), one of Abedini’s leading advocates. “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.”
More than 1.1 million people had joined ACLJ’s “Save Saeed” campaign. President Obama personally told Naghmeh last year that freeing her husband was “a top priority.”
The now 35-year-old Abedini is an American citizen who lives in Boise, Idaho with his American wife and two children. The Southern Baptist Convention awarded Abedini the 2014 Richard Land Distinguished Service Award for his “exemplary service and faithfulness to the kingdom of God.
Abedini had made frequent trips to Iran during recent years. A convert from Islam to Christianity, he had been warned by the Iranian government against his involvement with planting churches in homes.
In 2012, he returned to Iran instead to continue building a government-approved orphanage. While there, Abedini was pulled off a bus, charged with undermining national security, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The sentence has resulted in torture and beatings and pressure to recant for Abedini.
“We’re delighted this day has finally arrived,” stated Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. “Pastor Saeed should never been imprisoned in the first place. … 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.”
“We are grateful for the release of Pastor Saeed,” stated the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)’s Russell Moore. “The prayers of the Body of Christ all over the world have been answered. This day of celebration should remind us to pray and work all the more for the multitudes still persecuted for their faith all over the world, including in Iran. We hope and long for the day when Iran, and nations like it, are free from those who wish to enslave the conscience at the point of a sword.”