The wife and attorney of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American jailed in Iran for his Christian faith, pleaded for the U.S. government to take action to free him during a congressional hearing Friday in Washington.
Naghmeh Abedini expressed frustration that the government has not been responsive in working toward her husband's release.
"I must say, I'm disappointed with our government; I'm disappointed that our president and state department has not fully engaged in this case, disappointed that this great country is not doing more to free my husband, a U.S. citizen," Mrs. Abedini said. "I expect more from our government."
She gave a heart-felt testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress during a hearing on "The Worsening Plight of Religious Minorities in Iran."
Mrs. Abedini said her husband has endured beatings, torture and told that he must renounce his Christian faith while being held captive in Iran.
The mother of two broke into tears when she told senators on the panel that her kids do not yet know about the eight-year jail sentence and what that means.
"They ask: Does daddy not love us anymore? Does he not want to hear our voice anymore?" testified Mrs. Abedini. "I had to tell them that he was in prison because he loves Jesus."
Earlier in the hearing, Dr. Jay Sekulow, the attorney who has been representing the Abedini family, unleashed his anger at the State Department for being silent on the pastor's case.
"The problem in this case is that the State Department is AWOL. They are missing. They act as if they are embarrassed about Abedini's faith," said Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington D.C.
Sekulow said his organization has received over half a million petition signatures in the past few weeks urging for Abedini's release. He said the European Union and Australia has also called for his freedom.
"U.S. was silent. It is troubling and extremely offensive," he said. The ACLJ lawyer also pointed to their absence at the hearing as a sign of their lack of concern.
Last year, the ACLJ was able to get the State Department and international community to rachet pressure for Iran to free Youcef Nardarkhani, an Iranian pastor who was jailed and sentenced to death for apostasy.
Nardarkhani was not an American citizen yet the State Dept. spoke out, Sekulow pointed out. "Saeed Abedini is an American citizen. He's us," he added. "He deserves more from his government."
Last summer, Abedini returned to Iran with his family to help build a state-run, secular orphanage. The pastor from Boise, Idaho, was arrested and imprisoned without charged for five months.
In January, Abedini was charged with threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches from years earlier and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Sekulow said the situation of human rights and religious freedom in Iran is "deteriorating," reporting that following the Nardarkhani's case, Christians are jailed under crimes of national security rather than apostasy.
"Christians, either ethnic of coverts, are facing systematic and systemic persecution and discrimination."
A member of Congress also spoke during the hearing, calling it "cowardly" that the State Dept. has yet to respond to a Feb. 12 letter sent by 37 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging for the release of Abedini. Another letter by 12 U.S. Senators was also sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ, also testifed before the congressional hearing Friday.
At the end of the hearing, Republican Senator Frank R. Wolf of Virginia urged members of Congress to "publicly stand" with Abedini and work toward his release.
On the Web: Petition to Save Saeed.