On these pages, I recently wrote how John F. Kerry’s State Department declined to appear at a Congressional Commission on Human Rights hearing regarding the plight of Rev. Saeed Abedini, the naturalized American of Iranian descent, who is imprisoned in Iran. After months of being held without formal charges, Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in the notorious Evin Prison on January 27, 2013, on charges of Christian evangelization and threatening Iranian national security.
The failure of any State Department officials to testify on behalf of Pastor Abedini in Congress was particularly jarring in light of the fact that 84 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini’s immediate release.” As an expression of bipartisan appeal, the letter was signed by both representatives and Senators who can typically agree on little else, including Representatives Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois).
However, our State Department has finally found some religion. Last Thursday, March 21, 2013, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, who serves as the United States Representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, called for Pastor Abedini’s release. In her remarks, Ambassador Donahoe stated:
We note with particular concern the worsening plight of religious minority communities in Iran, including Christians, Sunnis, Sufis, Jews, and Baha’i. Iranian officials continue to restrict these communities’ freedom to practice their religious beliefs free from harassment, threat, or intimidation. Christian pastor Saeed Abedini’s continuing harsh treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities exemplifies this trend. We repeat our call for the Government of Iran to release Mr. Abedini, and others who are unjustly imprisoned, and to cease immediately its persecution of all religious minority communities. The United States also repeats its call for the Government of Iran to provide without delay the urgent medical attention Mr. Abedini needs.
It is interesting to note that Ambassador Donahoe’s remarks were presented in the context of the European Union’s “Resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief.” The 27-member European Union called for Pastor Abedini’s release previously before the U.N. Human Rights Council. Ambassador Donahoe failed to present Pastor Abedini’s case at the U.N. Human Right Council on a hearing day that focused on human rights violations in Iran. But kudos to the European Union for standing up for Pastor Abedini’s freedom. And now, I only can hope and pray that both Secretary Kerry and President Obama will make public statements about Pastor Abedini. Such statements would send powerful messages to Iran and to our allies. In any event, Ambassador Donahoe makes a welcome first step, and better late than never! Thank you, Ambassador Donahoe, and let’s press ahead!