Update: Saeed Abedini has returned to Boise, Idahio, and has seen his children. In developing news, Saeed’s wife Naghmeh has filed a domestic relations case against him today (Jan. 27).
Saeed Abedini was released last week after more than three years in an Iranian prison. Upon his release he was taken to a U.S. Air Force Base in Germany for debriefing and medical assessment, then to the Billy Graham Training Center (the Cove) in Asheville, NC, for a period of rest and time with his parents. The pastor from Idaho next planned a reunion with his wife, Naghmeh, and their children.
His freedom, part of a prisoner exchange with Iran following that nation’s nuclear disarmament agreement with the U.S. was announced January 16.
In his first media interview since his release from an Iranian prison was announced Jan. 16, Abedini told FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren of the brutal physical and psychological torture he suffered in Iran for three and half years. Abedini prayed hours at times to survive years of abuse and unjust imprisonment in Iran for his Christian faith, and described his prayers as a “wonderful time with the Lord” which he enjoyed.
“I was beaten within to death kind of,” he told Van Susteren in broken English. “God saved me over there.” During a botched trial, the judge closed him in a room where guards beat him so badly with their fists that he suffered internal bleeding in his stomach. And at another time, he said, he was beaten on the face and body with a heavy metal chair.
Abedini’s wife Naghmeh has twice been delayed in seeing him since his prison release. She cancelled plans to visit him in Germany, where he was treated at a U.S. military hospital before his Jan. 21 arrival in the U.S., to give him more time to recover before reuniting with their children Rebekkah and Jacob. She told Baptist Press of plans to meet him Jan. 25 at the Cove, but according to news reports, that visit had also been delayed, Reuters News reported.
“We are ready to welcome him home,” Naghmeh said in a January 17 interview with FOX News, noting that the couple’s young children were making welcome home signs.
Leaders who have long called for the pastor’s release, including Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, were quick to respond to the news. “Praise God,” he posted.
“The prayers of the Body of Christ all over the world have been answered,” Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said later in a statement released by the ERLC. “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.”
Abedini was serving an eight-year sentence after being arrested in 2012. The pastor, who was raised in Iran and later became an American citizen, had organized Christian house churches in the Muslim country.
The ERLC gave Abedini a religious liberty award in 2014, which his wife accepted on his behalf at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Baltimore. Naghmeh returned to the SBC in 2015, where pastors prayed for her family and her husband’s release during the annual Pastors’ Conference.
During much of his imprisonment, Naghmeh advocated publicly for Saeed, organizing prayer vigils for him and sharing updates on social media. Late last year, though, she stepped back from the public campaign after e-mails she sent to supporters were leaked. The messages noted “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography)” that had marked the couple’s marriage. After her husband’s release, Naghmeh confirmed to the Washington Post that the abuse had started early in their marriage and grew worse during Saeed’s imprisonment.
“When he gets home, we can address the serious issues that have happened and continued,” she said. Naghmeh also told Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey that it’s unclear whether her husband will continue to be a pastor.
“I think he would have to deal with a lot of issues,” she said. “There will need to be a time of healing for him and his family.” Evangelist Franklin Graham is “coming alongside our family through the next steps of the difficult journey ahead,” Naghmeh posted on Facebook January 20.
The American Center for Law and Justice, who had lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release, credited God’s intervention for his freedom. “We want to rejoice that the Lord has set these individuals free,” said Chief Counsel Jordan Sekulow.
“At the end of the day, this was a move of God, because so many circumstances had to line up correctly for this to happen, and it did. And that’s not humans doing that; that is the Lord and we were just instruments to do our part.
Eric Reed with additional reporting from Baptist Press.