Jailed Christian pastor in Iran missing, says family

(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)American pastor Saeed Abedini faces the death penalty for charges of undermining national security in Iran because he was involved in house churches a decade ago.

He was beaten, jailed without formal charges, and then shut out from his own trial. Now, American pastor Saeed Abedini has gone missing from the jail in Iran where he was being held for the past several months, according to a Christian legal group representing his family in the United States.

His family in Iran has reported that they have not been told where Abedini, who is accused of undermining "national security" for his involvement in starting house churches throughout Iran, has been moved to.

"The fact that his whereabouts are unknown to his family and attorney is cause for concern," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of American Center for Law and Justice, in a Fox News report. The ACLJ is the Washington D.C.-based organization that monitors and protects religious liberties through representation and advocacy.

The news of Abedini missing follows a turbulent week for the 32-year-old American pastor who lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two children. His trial began this week but he and his attorney were unable to attend for some of the hearings. Then came confusing reports about his jailed status, with media in Iran saying Abedini was released on bail while his family and ACLJ reporting that he was twice denied bail.

One possibility of Abedini's whereabouts may be a medical facility, since his lawyer Naser Sarbazi had requested before a judge Monday that he be moved to a facility where he could receive medical attention. While the judge agreed, neither his relatives or attorney was notified of such a move if it occurred.

"We know that Pastor Saeed has undergone intense pains after beatings in interrogations while in his current prison ward, and a transfer [to a medical ward] would allow him to receive improved medical care," Fox News reported Sekulow as saying.

Pastor Saeed Abedini was born in Iran and converted from Islam to Christianity 13 years ago. He began working with house churches in the country and was arrested about a decade ago. At that time, officials let him go if he promised not to evangelize again. Abedini was arrested last September while he was in Iran to set up government-approved orphanages.

Charged with undermining "national security" because he worked with house churches and evangelized Muslim youth to Christianity, Abedini faces the death penalty. His case is being heard by a judge who is notorious for issuing the death penalty by hanging, according to ACLJ

Last week, U.S. congressional members called upon the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to help in the release of Abedini. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom also release d a statement urging the release of the imprisoned pastor. Last year, similar actions took place before international pressure led Iranian officials to release Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani, who was jailed over 1,000 days for apostasy charges.

Over 230,000 have signed a petition by ACLJ, which was also played a large role in advocating on behalf of Nardarkhani, to urge the State Department to act on behalf Abedini.

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