The International Religious Liberty Association has joined more than a dozen religious groups and human rights advocates calling for the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in Iran in September for his religious beliefs.
Abedini, who periodically traveled to his native Iran to establish and manage an orphanage, was arrested and convicted of endangering national security. The Christian Post last week reported that Abedini -- a member of a non-denominational Christian church -- was helping Christians in underground churches. He is now being tortured and forced to recant his Christian faith, the Post reported.
“It appears Abedini is being held and persecuted solely because of his faith, and we join others in calling for his immediate release,” said IRLA Secretary-General John Graz, who also serves as director for the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department of the Seventh-day Adventist world church.
"Arresting someone because he changes his religion should not be accepted by those who believe in human dignity," Graz said. "We hope the Iranian authorities will release Pastor Abedini as soon as possible."
In a February 13 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, an informal group of NGOs and activists requested the secretary to “exhaust every possible option” to ensure Abedini’s release and call on Iran to meet its commitment of upholding human rights.
“Iran is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which clearly recognizes the fundamental human right to choose one’s own religion and freedom from arbitrary detention,” the letter stated.
Other signatory groups include the American Islamic Congress, Christian Solidarity International, and World Relief.
The group’s letter came a day following a similar letter to Secretary Kerry from 84 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Reports indicate Abedini is subject to solitary confinement, beatings and aggressive interrogations at Evin Prison, known for holding many political prisoners. Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison at a trial last month, which numerous human rights groups said was a sham.
On January 25, a State Department spokeswoman called for Abedini’s release, condemning Iran’s violation of human rights and freedom of religion. White House spokesman Jay Carney on January 28 issued a similar appeal.
Abedini, a 32-year-old father of two, converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000. He since traveled to Iran to manage an orphanage in the northern city of Rasht.