Iran begins trial for U.S. pastor held since September
Saeed Abedini
January 21st, 2013
11:00 PM ET

Iran begins trial for U.S. pastor held since September

On Monday, American Saeed Abedini appeared in an Iranian court. The Christian pastor gave the judge a written statement and was questioned by prosecutors and his defense lawyer, whom he only met Monday.

But apparently that is not the end of the legal proceedings, according to his wife and lawyers who are assisting her with the situation.

Naghmeh Abedini said "a few" laymen with the Christian church in Iran told her husband's attorney that they have been called to testify in the case, in which the pastor is being tried for his religious beliefs. The lawyer indicated that neither he nor the pastor were expecting to be allowed to attend Tuesday's hearing.

Tiffany Barrans, the legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice, said the church leaders in Iran were faced with a dilemma: They could avoid being witnesses, or they could testify in court and possibly face similar charges.

"They are all very fearful to have to show up," she said on a conference call with Nahgmeh Abedini and Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the nonprofit organization, which provides legal counsel and litigates cases involving freedom and liberty issues around the world.

Nahgmeh Abedini said that when she last spoke with her husband on January 9, he was resigned to a fate of remaining in prison.

"He sounded OK," she said. "He sounded tired. He said he had come to a realization that they would not be releasing him anytime soon. Up until Christmas he had had hope."

Saeed Abedini has been arrested nearly 10 times in the past by the Iranian authorities, his wife said. The last time he had been held was in 2009, when he agreed to stop supporting home churches.

He had taken nine trips to Iran, where he was born and where his parents live, since then.

His wife said he felt like he was OK to go back repeatedly because he had no dealings with the authorities since he promised to no longer work with Christian home services.

Once he even went with his wife and two children. He and Naghmeh are both converts to Christianity from Islam, and they received threats during the most recent family visit so she took the children home. He came back to their home in Boise, Idaho, later.

Last summer, the pastor was on a bus that was crossing from Turkey into Iran. Immigration officials took away his passport and he was later put on house arrest. In September he was jailed, in the notorious Evin prison, while he awaited trial.

On Monday, the Iranian state-run news agency INSA reported he would soon be released on bail, but his wife said the court had rejected the family's attempt to pay.

She and her lawyers said the bail was $116,000, and the court rejected it on a technicality.

"His family (in Iran) has been running in circles to pay his bail and each time the court has rejected them and ask for more documents," she said. "For us its like they are crying wolf."

Her attorneys said the Iranian court is trying to gain positive worldwide media attention.

"The judge in this case has to portray it as if this is going to be a fair trial," Barrans said.

INSA also reported the trial was finished in one session, something Naghmeh Abedini doesn't believe.

Barrans said her team notified U.S. officials of the latest developments, but the State Department failed to respond.

Last week a spokeswoman for the department told reporters: "We understand that a hearing will be held soon, and we call on Iranian officials to respect Iran's own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney."

Naghmeh Abedini said she remained hopeful even though her husband's lawyer told her to be prepared for a conviction and sentence next week.

"I have a lot of peace and faith that it's all going to work out in its time," she said.

But she added that she sleeps only two hours a day, and her mind is constantly running through all the possibilities of what could happen to her husband.

She believes he has been tortured in prison, and it's possible that the judge could sentence her husband to death for a capital crime.

She also worried about her children, ages 4 and 6, who haven't seen their father in eight months. Dad was the one who gave them their baths at night, who read to them and sang them to sleep.

Now, they tell their mother they have a hard time remembering his face, so they put DVDs in and watch him as he played with them as babies.

"Every day is like 100 years to them," she said. "They are in great emotional pain."

She has only spoken to their father a few times since he was imprisoned. He is allowed to make short calls to his parents every Wednesday.

Naghmeh sounds strained. She comes back several times to her wish.

"There should be an outcry from the world that his religious freedom ... is being taken from him. And they should free him right now based on their own laws that (they) have signed on to and agreed to."

Saeed Abedini isn't the only American being held at Evin prison. Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine and decorated Iraq war veteran, is imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges.

Within weeks of setting foot in Iran for the first time in August 2011 to visit his grandmother, he was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned.

Months later he appeared on Iranian TV, showcased as a confessed CIA operative. The State Department has denied Hekmati was spying for the U.S. government and called the case a gross miscarriage of justice. A court convicted Hekmati of espionage, sentencing him to death, but he has since been granted a retrial.

CNN's Eric Ferrell contributed to this report.

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Iran

soundoff (201 Responses)
  1. jazeeminee

    I am praying for Pastor Abedini and his family. I also pray for many of you folks commenting on this article. I sense a lot of pain and bitterness in some of the comments; I pray that you would seek God and be healed. Having a personal relationship with God is not the same as being a "religious person". There is a big difference and I pray that you'll be able to see the difference.

    January 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Ben

      You pray for us, and we'll think for you.

      January 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • sam stone

      pain? more like being fed up with pompous declarations from True Believers

      January 24, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  2. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Putting the kibosh on all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    January 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Mike the old Navy Guy

    This is Karma in action. He goes to a country where their laws (like em or not) forbid religious education of Muslims into Christianity. He had been warned several times yet he persisted. I don't feel sorry for this man. Not one bit.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Jaybarb

      It's too bad you didn't actually listen to the whole story and see that the man returned on terms amenable to the government (i.e. setting up an orphanage). This is not karma; this is tyranny.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • Wendyjogh

      Where in the article do you see anyone asking for your sorrow for Pastor Saeed Abedini or the orphans for whom he was helping build an orphanage? You don't see it because your sorrow was never requested. Mr. Abedini left Boise, Idaho, returning again to Iran to help build an orphanage, sticking to his agreement with the Iranian government to no longer build Christian homes. He believed they'd stick to their part of the deal and leave him alone but he failed to remember that the Iranian government are all liars, thieves and murderers, as are their judges and courts. And these are some of the reasons so many Iranian people do leave Iran for the western world.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • Michael in Seattle

      Mike the navy guy, it's because you don't have a heart...If this was you on trial you would feel differently about this...When a law takes away ones freedom of religion, than it is no law...Just a dictatorship...It's a down right shame what they are doing to this man and his family...Muslim people break laws here in the US, but do we pass a death sentence on to them? I think not...It's morally wrong...They bring nothing but shame to themselves...This is a crime against humanity and it should be stopped....I have posted this story to all my friends on Facebook and I would urge everyone that believes this is wrong to mass post this story to all their friends and together we can show them that we will not back down when faced with evil men who wish nothing more than to rule the people and take away our human rights...Over 75 million people died in World War 2 fighting for our rights and our freedoms, and I'll be damned if I let those brave souls deaths be in vane...Let us all stand together as one...One day this could be you or me...If we turn away from this than we turn away from ourselves...United we stand and divided we fall...I will post this story on my Facebook page every day...I hope you all do, as well...May God have mercy on all of us...

      January 23, 2013 at 5:52 am |
  4. Zingo

    So they are going to court over whose invisible frieng is better?

    January 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  5. meifumado

    He knew he would get in trouble if he kept going there

    January 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  6. New Athiest

    And if this man was preaching some non-christian religion, would we still be reading about it, and would you bible thumpers still care?

    January 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Hypochristianity - the religion of demanding others obey the rules you ignore

      It's only persecution when we Christians want to play the victim. It's "idiots getting what they deserve" when it is other religions.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Jaybarb

      Yes, we would be reading about and yes we would care. He's an American citizen. Any American citizen of any faith being held in a country that threatens to kill him or her would be news. P.S. If you had any idea how long it's taken for people to actually start printing this story and talking about, you probably wouldn't ask this question.

      January 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  7. Niknak

    I love it when fundies from one mythology go after fundies from a different mythology, and the fundies who are getting negatively affected cry foul. In this case xtian fundies crying foul.
    Yet the same xtian fundies who cry foul don't say a peep about all the hate their mythology did to various other mythologies over the years (inquisitions, Crusades, Salem witch hunts etc).
    S_uck it xtian fundies, the vast majority of the world does not believe in your myth.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Apatheist

      We should still have compassion for this individual. Nobody deserves to be persecuted for their beliefs.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Niknak

      I agree, he should not have to go thru this just because his sky fairy is not the sanctioned sky fairy of that country.
      Hope he gets to rejoin his family without losing any body parts.
      But the xtians did the same to others back in the day. And if they ever got back into supreme power would do it again.

      The xtian fundies I work with openly want to make this a strict xtian nation and would relish the chance to have blasphemy laws and to either force people to convert or to kill them (they would prefer to just progress to the kill part so they can use their guns and kill people they don't like themselves).

      January 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm |

      having belief for himself is fine, but spread hinduism criminality based on hinduism fabrication called religions is hinduism illegality, is of worst kind of hinduism illegality..

      January 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • meifumado


      Hindu's are much nicer then muslims
      I dislike all religions
      Islam is the most evil and controlling of them all
      Given a choice Hindu's win every time, Hindu's are a much nicer people them muslims

      January 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Wren

    Muslims need to learn to be tolerant of other faith.They need to accept the fact that if they believe in the one true path then people will be automatically led to it and will stay in it no matter what. This is the 21st century and this kind of persecution needs to STOP.

    January 22, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • sam stone

      "They need to accept the fact that if they believe in the one true path then people will be automatically led to it and will stay in it no matter what"

      Doesn't the same apply to Christianity?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "Cognite Intrare"

      January 22, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Wren

      Christians ought to share the gospels with everyone. It is only by grace that a person comes to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Akira

      And Muslims don't believe that; tolerate that, please.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • sam stone

      My belief is that anyone who tries to share the gospels with me should be soundly ridiculed.

      January 22, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  9. Greg

    Hope and pray he returns safely and joins his loving family who is left in agony. May our merciful and loving God be with them and all muslims.

    January 22, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Niknak

      Or not..........

      January 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • meifumado

      Preying does nothing

      January 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Primewonk

    These Muslim nutters are just following the commands of their god – who is the same god that our Christian nutters worship.

    In fact, our Christain god makes the same command to our nutters –
    Deuteronomy 13: 6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God

    January 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Willie

      Funny that tools claim to know everything about the Bible and have never read the Bible and do not know what the Bible is about and yet quote random verses from the Bible without having a clue about the Bible.BTW, infidel.org is not a source if you want to know about the Bible

      January 22, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Primewonk

      Funny that religious nutters ignore the parts of their bible that show what an incredibly sick, sadistic, psychotic, schizoprenic, putz their god is.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • Primewonk

      By the way Willie, in case you don't know, Deuteronomy 13: 6-10 comes from your fucking bible, and not Infidels

      January 22, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Damocles

      Yeah I'm not sure how that can be taken out of context. You can't wrap up killing in a pretty box and put a nice big bow on it in an effort to make it more palatable.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Willie

      If you want to know about the Bible, you must atleast frst honestly attempt to read it first before shooting off random verses which betrays your ignorance of the scriptures.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Primewonk

      Are you really that ignorant Willie? Do you seriosly not understand that the vast majority of atheists are former theists? Originally I was as fundy as you can get. I could toss down verses and spin them with the best of them.

      I guess you are one of those fundiot nutters who thinks the bible means what it says it means except for when you need it to mean something completey dfferent?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Willie

      What kind of theist were you?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Willie, I've read the bible cover to cover, and like most non believers (see link to summary of Pew study) I know more about religion than the average believer.


      You might want to ask yourself why you feel the need to falsely believe that all atheists are ignorant of the Bible?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Putin

      Read the Bible cover to cover? as in reading a text book for an exam cover to cover and attempting to sit for an exam? You do realize that you cannot claim to pass an exam just because you read the underlying text cover to cover? You gotta take the exam first and be evaluated on your knowledge.

      Reading the Bible is not about religion, it is about finding a relationship with Almighty God

      January 22, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Pastor Rasaun O. Sheet

      ok.... in curious...someone says they read the bible ..cover to cover.. and because the are the opposition, they are dismissed by believers....what are we missing? Primewonk's excerpt from the bible seems to be straight forward......what do Willie and Putin see in the bible that gains them a better insight than, say Saraswati? Is this why the Catholics wanted to keep the bible from being translated out of Latin? Why are priests more qualified to interpret this damn book? none of them have seen god, none of them have heard god..... just like the rest of us.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Primewonk

      "What kind of theist were you?"

      Missouri Synod Lutheran, baby. And it doesn't get much fundier than that in the 60's and 70's. We kept our women in their proper place! We didn't have any of those "darkies" – as grandma called them – in our church. And we sure didn't have any gays!

      January 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Love Guru

      when nuts lie and claim to be former lutherans t'is indeed a sad day for the Lutherans

      January 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Akira

      What makes Lutherans so rarified that you would accuse Primewonk of lying, Love Guru?

      January 22, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Morgan

      Geez! Lutherans an easy prey for the paganist?!?!

      January 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  11. rad666

    If he is in their country and beaks one of their laws, then he should be prepared to answer for it.

    No different that if an Iranian is in America.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Jaybarb

      He had already been "busted" and released on an earlier visit. At the time of his arrest he was there on their terms promoting secular humanitarianism. Please read the entire story.

      January 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  12. Cathy

    All the laws we have in America to protect religious freedom, Islam, we bend over backwards for to make them feel comfortable in our country? But they can murder christians in their country? I say America stands up for all religions and gets these men out of Iran's prisons.This is a hate crime. To kill someone for speaking to others? Do muslims fear christianity? We should stop being so nice to them, and accomondating to their religion in America. How would they treat christians there then?This other man who is in prison there, is an American soldier? Wow, America your f-up. This man risked his life for us and the American government can't save him either? America is no longer America.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Primewonk

      "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Ann Coulter

      Yeah, our religious nutters are so much more enlightened than their religious nutters.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You do realize that the United States can and does imprisons and tortures non-US citizens for indefinite periods without trial in secret, Black Site, facilities throughout the world, right?
      Just ask Khaled el-Masri, Imam Rapito, and Aafia Siddiqui.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • sam stone

      "We should stop being so nice to them, and accomondating to their religion in America"

      So, because you percieve they are being intolerant, we should be just as intolerant?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • meifumado

      @ sam stone

      Yes Sam ,we should not tolerate them.
      When a western person goes to a muslim country the western person MUST abide by their stone age customs
      When a muslim comes to a western country they demand we respect their backwards ways while the spit on ours
      All religions are bad ,Islam is a threat to mankind more then any other

      January 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • sam stone

      so, they're bad, so we should be just as bad?

      should we scrap that whole "land of the free" thing?

      so much for the moral high ground, eh?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  13. Isma'il

    Christians been killling thousands of Muslims in the silly War on Terror for over ten years. So what if one ya'll get a taste of injustice.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Dar

      So what you are saying is that killing 3,000 people in one day was ok? Just another day at work for the good old terrorist.

      They started this crap on 9-11 or have you already forgotten like most youngsters have.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      They started it?
      I take it you haven't studied America's long history of intervening in the middle east to overthrow governments, fostering violence by arming and training guerilla groups, sabotaging economies, razing towns etc. ad nausreum.
      That being said, I don't think that 9/11 was justified – but once can understand where that level of hatred for the US comes from if you just pay attention to your own country's history.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  14. Rosslaw

    What is the news story hear? This is like declaring Liberace was gay or water runs down hill.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  15. ztom

    If you are planning on proselytizing in a country that tends to arrest people for doing so, you may want to decide if it is worth it. If you are fine with being a martyr, go for it. But don't complain if it goes badly.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Absolutely right on the money. I was going to post the same thing.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  16. ryan

    I really commend this pastor for sticking up for what he knows is right. He is a faithful man and my prayers go out to him, his family and to the people who are persecuting him for his faith.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • sam stone

      He was told he was not welcome. He had been there more than one time before. So, he goes halfway around the world to give them the finger and then complains about persecution?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  17. Pete

    What would you think if some kids in the playground were going to beat one kid up because he had different ideas about his imaginary friend? That grown adult humans do worse is pitiful.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  18. SaltyBob

    Not much to say here he knew what was at stake if he got caught and may now pay the price for his new found religion as well as his family will have to deal with the desion he made.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  19. Aezel

    You go to a country to tell them about your pretend friend. They however, kill people who don't believe in THEIR pretend friend, and you knew this going into it. I have little pity. Both sides need to grow the f*** up and live in the 21st century, sans the barbaric religions.

    January 22, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Doug

      Nice. I bet you are a joy to be around.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Dar

      Maybe you should pretend to show a little more compassion for a person who is only trying to help the poor regardless of his belief's.
      Maybe you should try and go help people that are starving and helpless that have no choice as to how they live in such a crappy place.
      Maybe you and your pretend friend can curl up with a good dose of patriotiusm and try to help a fellow American that is being treated like a dog.

      Maybe you like that kind of stuff. Seeing others stoned for something you don't believe in. Maybe you are no differant than the people who are holding this man in prison.

      Maybe it is your way or the highway, right........................... God help you and others like your hateful self.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  20. Pastor Evans

    The religion of peace? There is not such thing, there is only the Prince of Peace, who is Jesus Christ. As we seen from history to the present, religion is not from the true and living God because they are man-made belief systems that believe in idos (false gods) that they create. This is why there have been and continue to be, so many wars and divisions. The Lord's desire is that we become ONE in Him. ONE people of of the same HOLY SPIRIT serving the same God, who is living and not dead. Until mankind comes into this reality or as described in Matthew 16, when revelation came to Peter that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, these problems will continue. If we were all serving the same God, as many continue to say, then these type of things would not occur! Pastor Evans

    January 22, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • cedar rapids

      and your god is just as big a false idol. nothing makes your belief anymore valid than hindu, muslim or even norse and celt for that matter.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • rational63

      Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Harry Houdini

      Christians have short term memories. Not too long along, they were burning "non-believers" at the stake. And if the Lord's desire were that we "become one in Him", the Lord has an awful lot of work ahead since it is mostly Christians (yes, you folks in the Bible Belt) that cause the greatest issues.

      Leaving this aside: Any Muslim claiming that Islam is a peaceful religion merely demonstrates a lack of appreciation of realities. But what do you expect – religion is opium for the masses.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Jason

      You sound just as insane as those you accuse of believing in "false gods". News flash, they are all false.

      January 22, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • sam stone

      Religion is man made, but the bible was not?

      January 22, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Damocles

      Mmmm yes.... if only we were under one deity... goose-stepping our way to a dimmer, glassy-eyed future of everyone knowing their place and wanting nothing more than what they are told they can have.

      Whether you are a supposed deity or a human that is supposedly a deity, the desires appear to be the same.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:42 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.