More than 80 senators and representatives sent a letter February 12 to new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to step up U.S. efforts to gain the release of 32-year-old American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced last month to eight years in an Iranian prison for his pastoral leadership of Iran's underground church. Abedini, who was born and raised in Iran, had recently been making regular trips back to Iran with his American-born wife and children. He was taken into custody last September while in Iran to help start a non-sectarian orphanage and was subjected to severe torture and beatings in Iran's notorious Evin Prison before being convicted and sentenced last month by one of Iran's most ruthless religious court judges.
In late January, Kerry told U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that he was “deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency” of Abedini's trial and conviction. Kerry emphasized that he and the Obama administration “condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and release him.”
While thanking Kerry for his public statement on the diplomatic issue, the group of bipartisan lawmakers urged the new secretary of state to go a step further and “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini's immediate release.” They counseled that although “there are countless important issues that come before you, few are more sacred than defending the most fundamental rights. It is even more incumbent upon us to stand against persecution when it is levied against our own citizens. As an American citizen, Mr. Abedini deserves nothing less than the exercising of every diplomatic tool of the U.S. government to defend his basic human rights.”
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