American pastor sentenced to 8 years in Iran prison

(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)Pastor Saeed Abedini is seen in an undated file photo.

American pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been charged with threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches, was sentenced on Sunday to eight years in prison.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the sentence on Sunday, according the Associated Press. Abedini had been in jail since September.

The department is calling on Iran to respect Abedini's human rights and release him, spokesman Darby Holladay said. Abedini is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho.

"Mr. Abedini's attorney had only one day (Jan. 21) to present his defense, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of Mr. Abedini's trial," Holladay said.

Iranian state news agency ISNA had previously reported that Abedini would be released on bail. The AP picked up the ISNA report on Monday, noting Pastor Saeed had posted $116,000 bail.

"The promise of his release was a lie," said Abedini's wife Nagmeh, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization focusing on religious liberty and human rights cases around the world.

"With today's development I am devastated for my husband and my family. We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil," she said.

The ACLJ reported Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court verbally convicted and sentenced Abedini. The center says Iranian law requires a written verdict but it was not given.

The ACLJ previously reported Abedini and his lawyer were not allowed to attend a proceeding where other pastors testified in relation to the case.

Two weeks ago, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal body that monitors religious freedom abroad, called for Abedini's release, said the charges were "bogus" and called on the Iranian government to release him immediately and unconditionally.

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